"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

It’s Gary King vs. Susana Martinez in NM governor’s race

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-03 22:17

THE WINNER: Attorney General Gary King won the Democratic primary for New Mexico governor. Photo by Rob Nikolewski

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – He’s been criticized by some members of his own party as boring and unable to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez but New Mexico Attorney General Gary King won the Democratic primary Tuesday night — and he won it pretty handily.

By 9:30 p.m., major media outlets and polling guru Brian Sanderoff had declared King the winner in a five-person free-for-all.

Here were the numbers from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website at 10:04 p.m.:


Despite finishing in last place in the Democratic pre-primary convention back in March, with just 10.51 percent of the delegates voting for him, King collected more than enough signatures from registered Democrats to get on the ballot and on Tuesday night, the son of one of the most popular governors in New Mexico history — Bruce King — came out on top.

“I appreciate the voters of New Mexico showing confidence in us,” King told supporters in Albuquerque. “The real hard part of the race starts tomorrow morning. We know there is work to be done … We as Democrats will work together … We’re going to stand together for families, we’re going to stand together for the working people in state of New Mexico, we’re going to stand together for the teachers and education because we know the fate of New Mexico stands at the apex right now.”

Now King sets his sights on Martinez, who has consistently polled in the 55-60 percent range since taking office in January of 2011.

King also needs to shore up disgruntled hardcore Democrats.

The Santa Fe New Mexican ran an opinion piece May 26 from activists from Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe headlined, “Democrats, Pick Anybody But Gary,” saying King’s record in two terms as attorney general has been “filled with inaction and incompetence.”

And outgoing state Treasurer James Lewis said rank and file Democrats need to get fired up for November. “There’s been some apathy, there’s been some complacency,” he told Steve Terrell of the New Mexican.

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

NM’s tire-slashing candidate gets a year in prison

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-03 17:40

A YEAR IN PRISON: Republican Gary Smith, seen here in a 2012 campaign photo, was sentenced to a year in prison for slashing the tires of one of his opponents and a former campaign manager.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

New Mexico’s candidate for the Sore Loser Hall of Fame is heading to prison.

On Tuesday, a district court judge in Albuquerque sentenced Gary Smith, a former Republican congressional candidate, to a 12-month sentence for felony stalking. Smith has already been sitting in the Metropolitan Detention Center for the last year and a half.

Smith was caught on videotape in late 2012 puncturing the tires of his former opponent, Janice Arnold-Jones, and was accused of slashing 54 tires of his former campaign manager.

At first, Smith denied the charges but the video showed a man fitting the description of Smith, who was 65 at the time, damaging the tires of vehicles owned by Arnold-Jones and her husband, who live in Northeast Albuquerque:

Smith signed up to run against Arnold-Jones in the 2012 GOP primary for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District.

A longshot who had never run for political office before, Smith had his signature petitions qualifying him for the June primary ballot challenged by Arnold-Jones and a district court judge agreed, saying not enough of the signatures were valid, thus kicking Smith off the ballot.

Smith was angry after the decision, telling KOB-TV at the time, “When you go to your own kind, your own brother, your own sister, and they stab you in the back repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly.”

Smith’s troubles aren’t over.

The judge on Tuesday ordered Smith, upon completion of his sentence, to be extradited to El Paso, Texas to face charges of tire-slashing the vehicles of his former next-door neighbors, as well as threatening to burn down their house.

“The fact that we got targeted is very scary, and it’s clear that something is very wrong with him,” Arnold-Jones told New Mexico Watchdog last month.

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

Tesla gigafactory decision may not come until end of the year

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-03 16:41

WE’RE WAITING: Telsa Motors CEO Elon Musk now says he probably won’t make a final decision on a site for a “gigafactory” until the end of the year.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The latest twist in the Tesla gigafactory sweepstakes came Tuesday, when electric car mogul Elon Musk made a couple announcements.

First, Musk told shareholders in Mountain View, Calif., that while he still plans to break ground on the battery factory this month, he may not make a final decision until late in the year.

Second, Musk said that he may select as many as three states as potential sites before choosing a winner.

“It might actually be three states that we do it in,” Bloomberg News quoted Musk as saying. “I would expect that we do a down-select for Gigafactory 1 before the end of the year.”

New Mexico is one of five states in the running for the factory that promises to bring 6,500 jobs. The other states are Nevada, Arizona, Texas and California — although Musk said last month that California was a long shot to win the contract, which is estimated to be worth $5 billion.

Plans for the gigafactory are “quite advanced,” Musk said Tuesday, adding that discussions about the plant take place daily with Panasonic Corp., Tesla’s main supplier of battery cells.

Tesla Motors is the largest electric car company in the world. It currently offers cars that are priced at about $70,000 each but has plans to dramatically increase production by producing a new model for about half the price.

When New Mexico was named as one of the states being considered, New Mexico Economic Development Department Secretary Jon Barela told New Mexico Watchdog that winning the bid “would be 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.”

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

Tom Udall named in ethics complaint over IRS letter

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-06-03 16:01

ETHICS COMPLAINT: Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, is one of nine Senate Democrats accused of pressuring the IRS into looking at political organizations.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico was one of nine Senate Democrats listed in a complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, arguing the senators improperly contacted the Internal Revenue Service to investigate nonprofit political groups.

“Richard Nixon faced impeachment charges for attempting to use the IRS for political purposes,” said David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a right-of-center group that describes itself as defenders of free speech. “To varying degrees, each of these senators did exactly this kind of conduct. It clearly violates the Senate rules.”

But Udall told New Mexico Watchdog he hasn’t been targeting one political group over another.

“No group seeking to influence elections should get tax-exempt status, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican,” Udall said in an email. “I continue to believe New Mexicans have a right to know who is trying to influence their vote, and who is paying for all those negative ads on television.”

In addition to Udall, the CCP complaint mentions U.S. Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

The senators had expressed their opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case concerning campaign spending, and contacted the IRS asking the agency to see if some organizations applying for tax-free status under 501(c)4 rules were engaging in political activity more so than social welfare.

In March 2012, Udall signed a letter along with six other Senate Democrats to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman “to urge you to investigate these allegations.”

The letter didn’t specifically mention any specific groups, but did reference a New York Times article that mentioned American Crossroads, a group co-founded by Karl Rove.

In 2013, allegations surfaced that the IRS was targeting politically conservative groups.

Keating said his organization has no problem with members of Congress contacting the IRS and asking general questions about enforcing regulations.

“Where we draw the line is when they specifically name organizations and ask for investigations,” Keating told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview. “Congress is a lawmaking body. It’s not a body in charge of enforcing the law and it shouldn’t be targeting individual citizens or individual groups … That’s not their role.”

“Sen. Udall wrote to the IRS in 2012 asking for better transparency and enforcement under the law because he was concerned that the IRS had failed to stop front groups in both parties from filing false statements and engaging in illegal amounts of political activity,” Udall spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm said Tuesday. “He has followed up with the IRS to propose three substantive rules to make it easier for them to apply the rules fairly to everyone and to prevent shadowy groups from breaking the law and increase transparency in elections. This ethics complaint is a frivolous effort to politicize a serious issue.”

CCP’s complaint singled out Levin, who wrote seven letters to the IRS asking the agency to look into specific groups, such as Americans for Prosperity and Patriot Majority USA.

An IRS official told Levin such information could not be legally divulged.

“I’ll be the first to admit that what Udall did does not compare to what Sen. Levin did, but we still think it’s improper because he’s referencing specific individual organizations in context with the IRS,” Keating said.

Keating said that under Senate Ethics Committee rules, the committee must launch a preliminary inquiry upon receiving a formal complaint.

Click here to read the Center for Competitive Politics complaint.

And click here to read the letter sent to the IRS that Udall signed in 2012.

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

Too early to tell how new EPA regulations will affect NM customers

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-06-02 17:31

WAITING TO SEE: Officials at New Mexico’s largest utility say it’s too early to tell if new EPA regulations will affect plans to retrofit coal-fired units at the San Juan Generating Station.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Environmentalists were celebrating and a lot of energy companies were grumbling after the Obama administration rolled out new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on Monday but New Mexico’s largest utility company was taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Saying that the EPA draft rule “is a lengthy and complex document,” Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) senior vice president of public policy Ron Darnell said in a statement that “it’s too early to tell how it will affect PNM specifically.”

Or, how much extra it will cost PNM customers.

The new EPA rules will set national guidelines on carbon dioxide on existing power plants for the first time, aiming to reduce CO2 emissions 30 percent nationwide.

One of the primary targets of the new regulations is the coal industry.

PNM’s San Juan Generating Station in the northwest corner of New Mexico contains four coal-fired generating units and the company has put forth a proposal to retire two of the coal units as a way to reduce regional haze. The other two units plan to be retrofitted with pollution controls.

Since the PNM plan, which received non-binding approval last year from the EPA and the New Mexico Environment Department, aims to reduce emissions 50 percent, PNM officials have been guardedly optimistic that Monday’s announcement will not effect the San Juan proposal.

“We appreciate that the EPA rule provides each state with significant flexibility in developing a compliance plan that recognizes unique opportunities and challenges,” Darnell said.

The San Juan plan still has to be approved by the Public Regulation Commission as well as the EPA.

With or without the new EPA regulations, PNM customers were going to pay more.

In early 2013, PNM estimated its proposal would cost the company between $400 million and $430 million. Judging from rough estimates made at the time, the plan would cost PNM customers a little more than $30 more per year.

“On the one hand, I’m pleased that (New Mexico appears) to be well positioned,” New Mexico Environment Secretary Ray Flynn told Associated Press. “On the other hand, I still remain concerned about impacts to consumers. There’s no question that EPA’s action is going to result in increased costs for electric generation around the country.”

Nationally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed the EPA regulations could cost up to $50 billion a year in GDP and keep 224,000 jobs a year from being created.

“Sure, energy companies are going to howl, but they can’t get a free pass to dump harmful waste into our air any longer, and they’re fully capable of innovating their way to solutions,” said National Audubon Society president and CEO David Yarnold.

The EPA says the regulations will save 6,600 lives and more than $50 billion a year in health care costs tied to air pollution.

Both of New Mexico’s U.S. senators, Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, hailed the decision.

“Climate change is a fact that is a problem in New Mexico today and not just at some far off date in the future,” Heinrich said. “The longer we wait to act, the more difficult and expensive the solutions will be and the more unpredictable our weather will become.”

But the only Republican in the New Mexico Capitol Hill delegation blasted the new regulations.

“The president and the EPA are using these regulations to force states into using cap-and-trade systems that could not even pass in the Senate with a filibuster-proof Democratic majority,” said Rep. Steve Pearce, R-New Mexico. “The administration’s radical war on coal is nothing more than a war on the poor.”

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

Three cops in NM’s infamous anal cavity search case still on the job

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-05-30 12:37

STILL ON THE JOB: At least three officers involved in a series of anal cavity searches of a New Mexico man suspected of carrying drugs are still on the force, despite a $1.6 million settlement in the victim’s favor.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — It’s one of the most shocking and infamous cases to ever come out of New Mexico: a man, falsely suspected of carrying drugs, forced to undergo multiple anal cavity searches.

Now, a year and half after the incident and six months after a settlement of $1.6 million in local taxpayer money was announced, New Mexico Watchdog has learned at least three police officers involved in the case are still on the job, while the status of three others remains a secret.

Deming Police Chief Brandon Gigante told New Mexico Watchdog on Thursday that all three officers in his department who were listed as defendants in a subsequent lawsuit are still on active duty. Gigante wouldn’t say why or reveal if the officers were disciplined.

“That is a personnel matter,” Gigante said in a telephone interview.

Three members of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office were also listed in the suit, but county officials refused to answer any questions about their status in the aftermath of the case involving Lordsburg resident David Eckert.

Back in January, a settlement was announced in which the 64-year-old Eckert will get $950,000 from the city of Deming and $650,000 from Hidalgo County — a total of $1.6 million for which taxpayers in the two communities are responsible.

According to the lawsuit, in early 2013 Eckert was pulled over by Deming cops for allegedly not coming to a full stop at a stop sign in a Walmart parking lot in Deming. Hidalgo County sheriff’s officers also arrived on the scene.

Authorities suspected Eckert was carrying drugs inside his anal cavity and over a 14-hour period subjected Eckert to two rounds of X-rays and three enemas and took him to a hospital in another county where Eckert was forced to undergo a colonoscopy.

No drugs were found. Eckert also received a bill for $6,000 for the colonoscopy. The case made international headlines, with noted legal scholar Jonathan Turley saying, “This case took my breath away.”

Two messages left with Hidalgo County Sheriff Saturnino Madero have gone unreturned.

Hidalgo County Commissioner Darr Shannon told New Mexico Watchdog, “I don’t know (about the status of the officers). I hate to admit it, but I don’t know anything … A county commissioner cannot have anything to do with personnel matters.”

Hidalgo County Commission Chairman Ed “Bim” Kerr referred questions to the county manager, Jose Salazar, who referred questions to the county’s attorney in the Eckert case, Damian Martinez.

“I can’t give any comment as to that,” Martinez said when contacted by New Mexico Watchdog.

Why not?

“I know where you’re coming from, but I’m (part of a) private law firm and my law firm’s policy is we don’t discuss litigation,” Martinez said. “Sorry I couldn’t help you, but I like your website.”

If public money has been spent, don’t taxpayers have a right to know if the officers involved are still on the force?

“It’s (Madero’s) department,” Shannon said. “I would be like you, I would be wanting to find out for the public, but I’m here to tell you government works in a way that is extremely odd, especially county government.”

New Mexico Watchdog is in the process of filing an Inspection of Public Records Act request with Deming and Hidalgo County authorities, seeking information about the case.

When news of the Eckert case broke, Deming Police Chief Gigante told KOB-TV, “We follow the law in every aspect, and we follow policies and protocols that we have in place.”

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

A ‘freedom of expression’ policy at NM college comes under fire

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:29

NOT SO FREE?: Critics say a proposed “Respectful Campus and Freedom of Expression” policy at a New Mexico college is too vaguely worded.

By Rob Nikolewski│New Mexico Watchdog

It sounds agreeable enough on the surface: Officials at Northern New Mexico College are about to adopt what’s called a “Respectful Campus and Freedom of Expression policy” for students and staff.

But the vice president of the student Senate worries the policy may lead the small school of 2,100 students into potential lawsuits.

“My main argument is that it could be done as a guideline but to adopt it in its current form is problematic,” Samuel LeDoux told New Mexico Watchdog. “It’s too broad … it’s just a bunch of buzzwords that don’t mean anything.”

The policy has not been finalized and is open for revision and public comment until June 12. The NMMC board of regents is expected to vote for or against adoption June 20.

“By no means do we want to infringe on anybody’s right to expression or speech,” said Ricky Serna, NNMC’s vice president for Institutional Advancement, said in a telephone interview. “We need to have a policy in place so when the administration works even on the most egregious of offenses they have some policy to protect us legally. If it isn’t written down somewhere, we can’t enforce anything.”

But LeDoux sees problems with the way the policy is worded.

For example, any “planned demonstrations” on campus must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance with the Office of Institutional Advancement.

“But elsewhere in the policy it says it doesn’t apply to spontaneous demonstrations,” LeDoux said. “How do you determine that and who determines what’s spontaneous?”

Serna said the 24-hour rule merely ensures facilities at the college aren’t overwhelmed by a demonstration involving large numbers of people, as well as avoiding logistical concerns.

“We’re a small institution,” Serna said. “We’re very limited for space and we want to make sure that if we’re holding an event or hosting a group that everybody’s activities are coordinated.”

But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit based in Philadelphia that defends individual rights on college campuses, produced its own critique of the policy.

“It appears students and faculty may face censorship or disciplinary action for not ‘respecting diversity and difference’ (in Section 2 of the proposal), or for failing to promote ‘civility’ and ‘respectful communication’ (Section 3),” Azhar Majeed, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program, wrote in response to questions about the proposal.

Majeed said the policy gives ultimate power to the college’s officials “to define and enforce those broad, amorphous terms.”

The NNMC proposal says the appropriate response to speech that may offend is “speech expressing opposing ideas and continued dialogue, not curtailment of speech” but then adds that “speech activity that unduly interferes with the rights of others or the ability of the College to carry out its mission is not protected by the First Amendment and violates this policy.”

FLASHPOINTS: A proposed free speech policy is the latest in a series of controversies at Northern New Mexico College, located in Espanola, N.M.

The University of New Mexico — the largest school in the state — has its own “Respectful Campus and Freedom of Expression” policy that’s similar to the NNMC proposal. But LeDoux says that doesn’t mean NNMC should adopt it.

“UNM has been under the same kind of scrutiny by free speech organizations like the ACLU and FIRE,” LeDoux said. “Besides, UNM has the financial fortitude to fight lawsuits. NNMC does not.”

Serna says the policy is still going through the vetting process. “We sent these policies out to students and the campus communities,” Serna said. “We solicit the criticism. We’re not trying to be top-down about this.”

The free speech policy debate is the latest in a series of controversies at NNMC.

The school’s faculty entered a “no confidence vote” against the school’s administration in April and has protested a number of moves by the administration, including cutting three vocational programs.

Serna defended the moves, saying the school has been losing money on programs with low attendance, low graduation rates and low career placement rates.

Earlier this month the school spent $5,000 for private investigators. Administrators wouldn’t say why, but an assistant professor told the Albuquerque Journal the money was spent to look into assault charges the professor filed after an alleged altercation with the human resources director.

“It just seems like (the freedom of expression policy) is a response to all the drama from last month,” LeDoux said.

Serna denied that, saying the policy reviews started more than a year ago.

“There’s no question that along the path there’s going to be dissent, and these policies don’t say they’re not allowed,” Serna said. “They say as long as we do that in a professional and appropriate way then all of that is welcome.”

But LeDoux says free speech sometimes doesn’t fall into appropriate or professional categories.

“People do not have the right to not be offended,” he wrote in a letter to the Rio Grande Sun. “In college we discuss very controversial subjects, as we should, because college is where we try to learn to fix our problems, not censor them.”

You can read the NNMC’s “Respectful Campus and Freedom of Expression” policy here:

2240 RespectfulCampus and 2220 Freedom Expression Dissent(1)

 

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

Speed cameras on track for a comeback in Santa Fe

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-05-28 11:26

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — A lot of people just don’t like traffic cameras.

Two years ago, a 65-year-old Santa Fe man received the nickname “Speedcam Commando” after he pulled up to a camera set up on Bishop’s Lodge Road, got out of his car clad only in a nightshirt and pulled out a gun, firing five times at the speedcam. He then got back into his vehicle and drove home. It was all caught on tape:

The “Speedcam Commando” ended up making a plea deal and agreed to 18 months probation.

Now, two years after the video went viral, the Santa Fe City Council is on the verge of bringing back the speed cameras.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN?: The Santa Fe City Council is considering bringing back unmanned speed cameras.

The city’s Public Safety Committee approved a proposal to sign an agreement with Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems to place three unmanned SUVs equipped with cameras at strategic locations to nab speeders.

The City Council is expected to vote in July on the proposal.

Councilor Ron Trujillo says he’s is in favor of bringing back the cameras, which have idle for the past five months after the city’s contract with Redflex expired.

“I’ve got people who I represent saying, ‘Councilor, I’ve got people speeding through my neighborhood like it’s a raceway,’ ” Trujillo told New Mexico Watchdog. “You put those speed cameras in there and guess what? They call back and say the speeding has gone down dramatically.”

But some Santa Fe residents don’t want the speed cameras back at all.

“Regular traffic enforcement is what works,” retired lawyer Marlene Foster said in a telephone interview. “It’s not really about safety.”

Redflex has made headlines in other locations across the country.

In Chicago, Redflex lost its $100 million contract with the city after allegations surfaced that the company bribed local officials. Six Redflex executives were fired. One said the company handed out gifts and favors to communities in 13 states.

“I’m just appalled” that the city of Santa Fe is considering a new contract with Redflex, Foster said.

“That’s just astonishing to me.”

Redflex was the only company to bid on the Santa Fe contract.

“It’s unfortunate what happened in Chicago and other cities,” said Trujillo. “I personally think that’s outright wrong what they did but Redflex says they’ve gotten to the source of what the problem was … I think they want to be more diligent about what they’re doing but, in my opinion, this program has worked in this community.”

Trujillo says he has not received any gifts or campaign donations from Redflex.

Supporters cite statistics they say show a reduction in traffic mishaps after the cameras are installed. But critics say the surveillance causes rear-end accidents as drivers slam on their brakes when they see the SUVs.

“They say it’s about safety but it truly has nothing to do with safety,” Foster said. “I think you can find studies that show it doesn’t help with that. It has to do with revenue collection.”

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the city’s SUVs produced$2.3 million since 2009. Half of revenue derived from the citations goes to the state and the other half is divided between Redflex and the city.

Under the proposal before the City Council, the city will net between $8.50 and $18 per ticket issued.

Drivers caught speeding on the Redflex cameras receive $100 tickets. The citations are not counted on a driver’s record or insurance.

“I know theoretically you can challenge (the ticket) but it’s really difficult,” said Foster. “I know some people who tried to do that without too much success and they just gave up and paid.”

“I wish I could have a police officer 24 hours a day patrolling each street, but that’s not realistic and that’s not going to happen,” Trujillo said. “This is just a tool to aid our police officers … A lot of people hate it. Of course they do. Nobody wants to get a ticket. But the thing about it is, is it OK for you to run a red light or a stop sign just because a police officer is not there?”

Other cities in New Mexico have tried and then rejected traffic surveillance cameras.

In Albuquerque, despite calls from Mayor Richard Berry and other city officials to keep red-light cameras, 53 percent of voters in 2011 voted to get rid of them.

In Las Cruces, red-light cameras were deactivated on March 30 after city officials decided not to renew their contract with Redflex. But $2.9 million in fines are still outstanding, and City Manager Robert Garza said drivers who received tickets are still responsible for them.

“Those that were recorded during the program operation still have outstanding citations, and those who received the citations are expected to pay the associated fine or follow the appeal process outlined with their citation,” Garza told the Las Cruces Sun-News.

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

Editorial: New Mexico needs new ideas for job growth

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-05-27 11:36

TIME FOR NEW THINKING: Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico proposes two ideas to jump-start the state’s job market.

By Fred Nathan │ Special to New Mexico Watchdog

Prompted by a large decline in federal spending, New Mexicans are now engaged in a healthy and useful dialogue about how best to diversify our economy.

Think New Mexico would like to offer two ideas we believe could propel private-sector job growth in our state – and that gubernatorial and legislative candidates from both parties should be able to embrace.

Both ideas were advanced in Think New Mexico’s 2013 policy report, “Addressing the Jobs Crisis.” The first would establish a post-performance incentive that would reward companies only after they create high-paying jobs or make major capital investments. It is designed to encourage existing business to expand in New Mexico and new businesses to relocate to the state.

Six years ago, Utah, which now ranks second in the nation for job growth, became the first state to move to an economic development strategy based on post-performance incentives.

Utah’s post-performance incentive has led to the creation of 25,546 high-paying jobs from blue chip companies like Boeing, eBay, and Proctor and Gamble. That is in addition to $5.16 billion in new capital investment and $1.62 billion in new state revenue since the incentive was established in 2008. (Several weeks ago Idaho became the second state to enact this sort of post- performance incentive).

Think New Mexico drafted a bipartisan post-performance incentive bill (SB 10), modeled after Utah but tailored to New Mexico. The bill was introduced in the last session by Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and state Sen. Sue Beffort, R-Albuquerque, and it offered businesses a rebate of 30 percent of the new tax revenue produced when they relocate to or expand operations in New Mexico. The incentive would be available only after new jobs and new tax revenue have been created.

SB 10 passed two Senate committees unanimously before dying on the Senate floor without a hearing. SB 10 would have been an effective tool to attract companies like Tesla.

The second proposal is designed to expand New Mexico’s entrepreneurial talent pool, which is what will ultimately drive job growth over the long term.

Entrepreneurs come disproportionately from two groups: those who work in the STEM fields — science technology, engineering and math — and immigrants, who are generally accustomed to taking risk and sometimes have to create their own businesses to find work.

Combining these two groups would create a powerful engine of entrepreneurship. That is what exists in Silicon Valley, where an enormous number of companies have been started by foreign-born entrepreneurs in the STEM fields. Think of Russian-born Sergey Brin at Google and Hungarian-born Andy Grove at Intel, for example.

To generate more start-ups and jobs, New Mexico needs to attract more international STEM students to our public universities. We currently have very few of those students, in part because of the relatively high cost of out-of-state tuition. (Our in-state tuition remains a big bargain).

In 1999, faced with a declining state population, North Dakota started offering in-state tuition to international (and out-of-state) students. After graduating, many of these students stayed in North Dakota and started companies, particularly in the information technology, computer science, medical and defense industries, according to a 2011 Wall Street Journal article. Considering the many amenities and excellent quality of life New Mexico has to offer, we are in an even better position than North Dakota to attract and retain international students.

Think New Mexico developed SB 8, sponsored by Papen and state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, in the last session to allow New Mexico’s public universities to offer in-state tuition to international STEM students and to enhance their STEM programs for local students. SB 8, like SB 10, passed two committees unanimously before dying on the Senate floor without a hearing.

As a small state, like North Dakota and Utah, New Mexico needs an innovative economic development strategy. Both SB 8 and SB 10 should be part of that strategy, and we plan to bring back these bills in the 2015 session. You can learn more by visiting Think New Mexico’s website at: www.thinknewmexico.org.

Fred Nathan is the executive director of Think New Mexico, an independent, results-oriented think tank based in Santa Fe. It is best known for its successful work to make full-day kindergarten accessible to every child in New Mexico and to repeal the food tax.

On Memorial Day, some history of the holiday

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-05-25 19:36

Vintage Memorial Day postcard

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

Originally called Decoration Day, the Memorial Day holiday officially recognizes all who died as members of the U.S. armed forces.

It’s not to be confused with Veterans Day, which celebrates all who have served or are serving, living or dead.

Memorial Day had its beginnings at the end of the Civil War, when the North and South went about commemorating the dead who fell in what remains the bloodiest war in American history.

An estimated 620,000 soldiers died. That’s more than 200,000 more who died in World War II.

And another 1.1 million were wounded between 1861 and 1865. Those are staggering figures for a nation that, at the outbreak of the Civil War, numbered 31 million.

To put that in perspective, if you adjust those figures to the population in the U.S. today (315 million), it would translate into well more than 6 million dead and 11 million wounded.

One of the survivors of the Civil War was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who, as a Union officer, was thrice wounded at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Antietam,and Chancellorsville, respectively. Holmes later became a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Holmes gave a Memorial Day speech on May 30, 1884, in Keene, N.H., where he concluded by saying:

“Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

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

VIDEO: Discussion of the Otero County showdown between cattle and a mouse

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-05-23 16:52

WATER WAR: The U.S. Forest Service has locked out cattle belonging to ranchers in Otero County, N.M., because it wants to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse. Photo from KVIA-TV.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

The land battle out West between the federal government and local ranchers has moved into New Mexico.

In Otero County in the southern part of the state, the U.S. Forest Service has blocked cattle from a creek in order to protect the habitat of a creature most people have never heard of — the meadow jumping mouse — and that has local authorities steaming.

New Mexico Watchdog has covered the story. Click here to read our most recent take on the mouse vs. cattle controversy.

And the story was a topic of discussion on a web-extra edition of “New Mexico In Focus,” the weekly public affairs program seen throughout the state on KNME-TV.

Joining host Gene Grant is Rob Nikolewski of New Mexico Watchdog, Associated Press reporter Jeri Clausing, former New Mexico state Rep. Dan Foley and Center for Civic Policy communications director Javier Benavides:

At 7 p.m. Friday night, the one-hour broadcast edition of New Mexico In Focus will be aired on KNME, Channel 5 and features an interview with Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry, discussing the ongoing crisis surrounding the Albuquerque Police Department. The broadcast will be repeated on Saturday on Channel 9.1 and Sunday at 7 a.m. on Channel 5.1.

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

Editorial: No reason to amend the First Amendment

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-05-23 08:06

KEEP FREE SPEECH FREE: Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation says a U.S. Senate resolution to change the Constitution is misguided.

By Paul Gessing │ Special to Watchdog.org

At 45 just words, the First Amendment has been a bulwark in protecting unpopular speech in the United States for more than 200 years. Whether that speech involved flag burning, the KKK, or unpopular political speech, the amendment’s clear and concise statement that “Congress shall make no law…” has been an exceptionally American statement of principle.

The First Amendment remains a clear statement by the American Founders that “democracy” or popular rule must be restrained in our republican form of government. Popular speech needs no special protections.

From reading the media these days, one might believe political speech undertaken by the Koch Brothers, the tea party, and other politically active Americans are less popular than the KKK. None other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Kochs “un-American” for engaging in the political process.

So, why would the head of New Mexico’s free market think tank write about the First Amendment right now? One reason is that our own political representatives, led by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are working right now to undermine free speech by amending the First Amendment.

In fairness, Udall, the lead sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 19, which would give Congress new powers to regulate fundraising in federal campaigns, is at least taking the proper approach (the amendment process) to abridge Americans’ free speech. A previous “campaign-finance law,” McCain-Feingold, nonetheless passed Congress and was signed by then-President George W. Bush only to see large portions thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Why would elected U.S. senators take it upon themselves to undermine the First Amendment when it has done so much to protect Americans for hundreds of years? After all, so many components of the Bill of Rights have been eroded over the years yet Americans’ freedom of speech remains the envy of the world.

For starters, Udall and his co-sponsors (as well as previous speech-limiters John McCain and Russ Feingold) all have one thing in common: they launched their assaults on political speech as incumbent politicians. McCain-Feingold was often called the “Incumbent Protection Act” because it placed limits on the ability of outside groups and challengers to raise money — money that could be used to unseat incumbent politicians.

Incumbents, with their ability to send mail at taxpayer expense via the franking privilege, gain favorable media attention through event appearances and legislative initiatives, and fundraise from Washington insiders whose livelihoods they often control, have tremendous advantages over even the best-funded challenger. In 2012, with congressional approval ratings at record lows, an astonishing nine in 10 members of the House and Senate who sought new terms this year were successful.

Yes, money in politics is not always attractive. Election season television and radio barrages are annoying. And there is no doubt special interests of all political persuasions are adept at using both money and manpower for their own benefit.

But as long as long as government bureaucrats and elected officials control large swaths of the American economy, big money will find its way into the system. After all, total government spending now exceeds 40 percent of gross domestic product and new regulations that could make or break businesses and even industries are put forth daily. People with resources at stake are going to find a way to influence those decisions.

Ironically, the Koch Brothers are among a small group that spends large sums not to increase political control over economy, but to reduce it through less government spending, smaller government and greater personal freedom. For that they are vilified mercilessly by politicians and the media. If Americans focused on taking the politics out of our economy (by reducing the government’s role) rather than money out of politics by restricting free speech, we’d all be better off.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

Disabled state: NM disability numbers up 65.2 %in 10 years

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-05-23 07:33

NEW MEXICO’S SPIKE: The number of New Mexico workers receiving disability payments from the government has spiked 65.2 percent in a 10-year period.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — The number of Americans receiving disability payments from the government is at an all-time high, and the percentage of New Mexicans on disability is running well ahead of the national rate.

A review of the national and statewide numbers by New Mexico Watchdog shows, in the space of a decade, the number of workers on disability in the Land of Enchantment has jumped 65.2 percent.

Earlier this week, the Social Security Administration released its national figures for the end of April, showing the number of disability insurance recipients across the country hit 10.99 million.

That number — made up of 8.9 million disabled workers, 153,475 spouses of disabled workers and 1.9 million children of disabled workers — is an all-time high:

 

Source: Social Security Administration. Chart by CNS News.

 

The statistics for individual states will not be updated until October, but New Mexico Watchdog looked at the most recent numbers available. As of December 2012, New Mexico had 63,286 workers on disability.

That represents a 4.1 percent increase over the previous year.

Going back over a 10-year period, New Mexico has seen a 65.2 percent increase in workers receiving disability payments:

That’s nearly 15 points above the national average. Between 2003 and 2012, the total number of workers receiving disability in the U.S. rose 50.3 percent.

“The long-term (disability insurance) program growth was predicted many years ago and is driven, for example, by the aging of the baby boom generation and the fact that more women have joined the labor force and have become eligible for benefits,” Sarah Schultz-Lackey, regional communications director in Dallas for the Social Security Administration, said in an email to New Mexico Watchdog.

But experts say there are other factors at work because the percentage has increased faster than the population has aged.

Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington D.C., points to three things in particular.

First, older workers are having a hard time finding jobs.

“It’s very difficult for someone who’s, say, 60 years old, to get hired again,” Tanner said in a telephone interview. “They’re kind of waiting around until they’re eligible for Social Security and Medicare and they’re using disability insurance as sort of a way station.”

Second, Tanner says some administrative judges are lax in awarding disability claims that are appealed.

“Essentially, it’s a two-step process,” Tanner said. “You apply, you either get accepted or denied by the Social Security Administration, which is relatively strict. If you lose, you’re allowed to appeal to these special administrative judges.”

And third, what’s considered a disability has been greatly expanded since the program was created in 1956.

“Twenty years ago, disability was primarily heart disease, cancer, things like that which are pretty clear diagnoses,” Tanner said. “Today, the leading two causes of disability are stress and back injuries, which are vague.”

To make matters worse, the disability trust fund is running out of money. A government report released last year estimated the fund could be completely depleted in as little as two years from now.

What can be done?

Tanner calls for a crackdown on administrative judges who essentially rubber-stamp claims. “Some of these folks, year after year, are in the 98 percent range.” Tanner said.

Tanner suggests the government should create a “partially disabled” category.

“We need to move away from this all or nothing approach so some people on disability can work and earn some money and get disability payments as a supplement if they can’t work full-time, for example,” Tanner said.

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

Can’t beat ‘em at the polls? Slash their tires

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-05-21 08:40

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Politicians can sometimes be a little nutty but a former congressional candidate here in New Mexico draws top honors when it comes to loopy behavior.

On Tuesday, Gary Smith pleaded no contest to aggravated stalking in an Albuquerque courtroom, stemming from charges that he repeatedly slashed the tires of his opponent in the 2012 Republican primary for Congress, Janice Arnold-Jones.

On top of that, Smith was also suspected of slashing the tires of his former campaign manager, Rhead Story.

The incidents occurred in the fall and winter of 2012, with Story reporting that 54 tires of his vehicles had been slashed and Arnold-Jones reporting $4,000 in damages from punctured tires in cars belonging to her and her husband John Jones.

After three such incidents, the Jones family installed security cameras around their home in Northeast Albuquerque and captured these images of a man with an icepick:

PLEADS NO CONTEST: Republican Gary Smith, seen here in a 2012 campaign photo, is about to be sentenced for slashing the tires of one of his opponents and a former campaign manager.

Smith, then 65 years old, originally denied that it was him on the videotape but police arrested him in January of 2013.

As reported by Peter St. Cyr of the Santa Fe Reporter, Smith made his plea Tuesday afternoon before a district court judge who deferred sentencing until June 3.

Smith, who’s been sitting in jail for more than a year, faces up to 30 months in prison but may received credit for time served and could be released on probation.

“This man tortured us for seven months,” Wanda Story, the wife of Rhead Story told St. Cyr. Rhead Story died last year from heart failure.

“The fact that we got targeted is very scary and it’s clear that something is very wrong with him,” Arnold-Jones told New Mexico Watchdog Tuesday night. “For us, the bigger issue with Mr. Smith is safety because you can’t predict this kind of behavior.”

Smith signed up to run against Arnold-Jones in the GOP primary for the US House of Representatives seat in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. A longshot who had never run for political office before, Smith had his signature petitions qualifying him for the June primary ballot challenged by Arnold-Jones and a district court judge agreed, saying not enough of the signatures were valid, thus kicking Smith off the ballot.

Smith was angry after the decision, telling KOB-TV at the time, “When you go to your own kind, your own brother, your own sister, and they stab you in the back repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly.”

Arnold-Jones and Wanda Story are seeking restitution for the damage caused.

Oh, and one other thing: Smith still isn’t out of the woods yet.

He could be extradited to El Paso, Texas, to face charges from his former next door neighbors who say tires in their cards were punctured and Smith threatened to burn down their house.

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

Gary Johnson blasts Forest Service review of Taos Ski Valley crackdown

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-05-20 16:35

HARD FEELINGS: An internal review of a Forest Service crackdown at the Taos Ski Valley calls for better coordination between the agency and ski valley officials but a former governor of New Mexico says the report doesn’t go nearly far enough.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Former Gov. Gary Johnson says he’s “still mad as hell” upon reading an internal review of a crackdown conducted back in February by armed officers of the U.S. Forest Service at the Taos Ski Valley.

“Nothing has been resolved by this,” said Johnson, an avid skier and harsh critic of the operation that featured four Forest Service agents in bullet-proof vests and a drug-sniffing dog.

“The upshot from this review is, (the Forest Service) is going to do this again. And if these things are going happen again, somebody’s going to get hurt. It’s either going to be the person they confront or vice-versa … I really thought they were going to come up with a policy change,” Johnson said in a telephone interview.

The review found the operation was justified, although the agency promises to coordinate with the ski resort and local police “in the future to more effectively and efficiently work through employee and public concerns.”

In addition, a Forest Service supervisor will have to OK future “saturation patrols.”

“They’ll coordinate with me,” Aban Lucero, Forest Service Regional Patrol Commander, told New Mexico Watchdog. “If I feel it’s warranted, we’ll go ahead and proceed.”

The Forest Service officers descended on the ski resort on Feb. 22, saying they were working on tips about possible drug deals, as well as reckless and drunk driving. The searches didn’t yield much — citations and warnings were issued for violations ranging from “possession amounts” of marijuana to cracked windshields — but angered a number of patrons who said the operation was heavy-handed. Several people accused the officers of being rude.

In the immediate aftermath of the sweep, Johnson went so far as to call them “jack-booted thugs.”

In response, an “after-action review,” conducted by four Forest Service officials, was ordered.

The report recommended the Forest Service set up a meeting with officials at the ski resort, local law enforcement, Taos businesses and the community to “work together on potential solutions to reduce criminal activity.”

But, at the same time, the review stressed that “Forest Service, state and local law enforcement agencies retain full authority to inspect, investigate and enforce all regulations and laws upon public lands.”

Portions of the Taos Ski Valley sit on U.S. Forest Service land, and the resort has worked as partners with the Forest Service since it was founded in 1954.

According to the review, six officers were supposed to take part in the sweep but two Forest Service officers pulled out, citing “higher priority assignments.” If the two officers had been there, they would have been “patrolling the mountain on skis, looking for violations of distribution, possession, and use of illegal drugs.”

“MAD AS HELL”: Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson says a patrol of the Taos Ski Valley shows the U.S. Forest Service has “too much funding.”

That nugget of information infuriated Johnson.

“If the Forest Service has enough money to send four armed officers and a drug-sniffing dog halfway across the state to spend a Saturday at a family ski area in the hope of busting a handful of folks for minor drug possession, they clearly have too much funding,” Johnson said Tuesday in a news release.

“Adding insult is the admission that their original plan was to have two more officers on skis cruising the slopes. Congress needs to take a very close look at the appropriations for not just the Forest Service, but the whole range of agencies who conduct these kinds of operations. They may have some legitimate law enforcement responsibilities related to their statutory missions, but harassing skiers, families, and employees at a relatively crime-free ski area isn’t one of them.”

As for complaints about the Forest Service officers being armed and wearing military attire, the review said the uniforms and equipment were standard and noted that the drug-sniffing dog was muzzled.

Regarding accusations that the officers were rude, the review did not come to a conclusion, saying only the use of “personal video recording devices by officers would have assisted the Forest Service in responding appropriately to complaints.”

“The officers were clearly within their authority,” Lucero said. “However, we have communicated and expressed … that in future saturation patrols, we need to coordinate within our internal and external partners.”

The report did not discuss whether Forest Service officials should defer investigations about drug activity to other federal entities, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“U.S. Forest Service land is our primary responsibility, it’s not the DEA’s,” Special Agent Robin Poague told New Mexico Watchdog in March.

There has been speculation the drug sweep came in response to reports of a quota system on the part of forest service administrators, but Poague said that wasn’t the case and the review made no mention of it.

Johnson said the saturation patrol was an example of government overreach.

“Better coordination and public relations does not make an abuse of power any less abusive,” Johnson said. “It is difficult to believe that, in granting federal agencies such as the Forest Service some degree of law enforcement authority, Congress envisioned armed officers conducting drug sweeps in parking lots and busting people for cracked windshields.”

“I think the key to the lessons learned is, we have a need for frequent and positive communications, coordination and relationship-building efforts between us and the local community businesses and organizations,” Lucero said, adding, “I think we’ll have better results.”

Here’s the entire 11-page after-action review:

Forest Service After-Action Review of Taos Ski Valley Saturation Patrol


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

Udall joins Democrats urging Obama to fast-track LNG terminals

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

BACKING LNG EXPORTS: Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, joined four other Senate Democrats urging the Obama administration to quicken the pace for liquefied natural gas exports.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, normally enjoys strong support from environmentalists in his home state but conservation groups are not happy with a recent letter Udall and four other Senate Democrats sent to President Obama urging the administration fast-track development of liquefied natural gas terminals.

“This is terrible,” said Eleanor Bravo, southwest senior organizer for Food and Water Watch New Mexico, “We are very disappointed.”

In the two-page letter, Udall, along with his cousin, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., U.S. Mary Landrieu, D-La., U.S. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and U.S. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., complained about what they said is the Energy Department’s slow pace of reviewing applications for LNG export terminals, which would ship U.S.-produced natural gas to foreign markets.

“We strongly believe that the export of LNG can help the United States strengthen global energy security while generating significant economic benefits domestically in an environmentally responsible way,” the letter said.

“Anything that can allow for a more open energy market I think will be good for New Mexico,” said Wally Drangmeister, communications director for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

He said it was a “pleasant surprise” to hear about the letter.

New Mexico is home to the San Juan Basin, one of the world’s richest natural gas deposits. In recent years, flat prices have kept down the pace of drilling in the region.

“I’m a supporter of a national renewable electricity standard and strong standards on natural gas development to protect New Mexico’s environment,” Udall said in an email to New Mexico Watchdog. “But natural gas is an increasingly important part of a ‘do it all, do it right’ energy strategy with fewer emissions than coal or oil. It’s also an important industry in New Mexico, which provides jobs and energy to our communities, along with revenue for schools and state services.”

A recent study by the Legislative Finance Committee estimated that a 10-cent increase in the price of natural gas translates into a $10 million boost to the state’s general fund.

A federal permit has been given a conditional OK for a LNG facility on the coast of Oregon, but dozens of other proposed plants aimed at shipping to overseas customers, especially Asia, are on hold from the Energy Department.

The letter also mentioned that LNG exports can act as a counterweight against Russia, which has been accused of using natural gas as a weapon against Ukraine and NATO nations in Europe, who are heavily reliant on energy from Russia.

“Even before the crisis in Ukraine, I’ve been pushing the administration to remove unnecessary obstacles to LNG exports in order to increase our allies energy security and to encourage the use of cleaner-burning fuel,” Udall said in his email.

That doesn’t sit well with Bravo, whose group is opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is used to extract oil and gas from below the surface.

Natural gas is “as dirty as coal when you take it into its total picture,” Bravo said. “And when you’re shipping it across the Pacific, you’re increasing the carbon footprint. And if we encourage these countries to use fossil fuels, they will delay their transition over to renewables.”

“Modern industrial societies require energy to operate, and they’ll get that energy from somewhere,” Drangmeister said. “The key is, we can be a part of that … The United States’ greenhouse gas production has gone down dramatically recently and that’s because of natural gas use” that burns much cleaner than coal.

Four of the five Democrats who signed the letter to Obama are up for re-election this fall.

In his email to New Mexico Watchdog, Tom Udall did not respond to a question about whether the pending election had any bearing on his decision to sign the letter.

In November, Udall will take on either David Clements or Allen Weh, who face each other in the Republican primary June 3.

Here’s the letter the five Democrats sent to President Obama:

Letter Pressing President to Swiftly Review, Approve Pending Liquefied Natural Gas Export Facilities by Mark Udall


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

Editorial: Why I don’t like Bill Clinton

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-05-18 00:04

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

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

I don’t like Bill Clinton.

From the get-go, his Eddie Haskell Goes To Washington act rubbed me the wrong way.

But we’re talking about politicians, not popes, and I was never one of those Clinton haters who frothed at the mouth, seeing conspiracies behind every potted plant from Little Rock to D.C.

Now, Monica Lewinsky is back in the news because the former White House intern wrote an article in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair, reflecting on her tryst that convulsed the media and the entire nation for nearly two years.

We all know the sordid story but whether you thought it was a witch hunt or not, the bottom line was that Bill Clinton was to blame for it, not the 22-year-old intern.

From the moment news of the scandal leaked, Clinton looked out only for himself. He let White House insiders begin a whispering campaign that Lewinsky was sex-crazed stalker. At the time, maybe they didn’t know the truth.

But Clinton did and he did nothing to stop it.

He let the rumors and slander swirl around the young woman until the infamous stained blue dress left Clinton, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, with no one left to lie to and he had to fess up.

In the meantime, Lewinsky, the object of countless dirty jokes, could barely show her face in public and considered suicide.

To be sure, she was not blameless. But think of the immature/reckless things you did when you were that age. I can think of plenty but my mistakes were not dissected on worldwide television and a nascent Internet.

And what of the power imbalance between the man holding the highest office in the most powerful nation in the world and a young woman with stars in her eyes? Where was the feminist sisterhood calling for Clinton’s ouster as it did for Bob Packwood or Clarence Thomas? Sorry, Monica, they came down with a case of laryngitis that they still haven’t quite overcome.

We all remember Clinton wagging his finger and saying, “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

Here’s what he should have said:

“Yes, I’m ashamed to say, it’s true. I did have a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. I hope my wife and daughter can forgive me. And I hope the American people can too.

“But I want to add one more thing: Do not vilify this young woman. She’s a nice person and I urge the media to give her space. If you want to blame someone for what happened, blame me. I’m the one who should have stopped this relationship before it started. Let her go in peace.

“My personal failings should not, I think, disqualify me from office. But that’s up to the American people to decide. Even the President of the United States is a public servant and I will abide by what the citizens of this great country say.”

Of course, Clinton the politician knew if he said something like that, his presidency probably would have come to an end.

But it would have been the decent and honorable thing to do. And it certainly would have spared one young woman, now 40 years old, an infinite amount of pain.

Shortly after the Vanity Fair story came out, it was reported that Clinton is considering making a public apology to Hillary Clinton and Lewinsky. Bad idea.

A public apology to his wife will be seen for what it is — a political calculation to help Hillary’s potential presidential run.

An apology to Lewinsky should be done in private, with sincerity.

But it doesn’t matter anyway, Bill. You’re 16 years too late.

This editorial first ran in the Santa Fe New Mexican on May 18, 2014. You can contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

A mouse vs. cattle: Showdown between ranchers and the feds in Otero County continues

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-05-16 17:06

WATER WAR: The U.S. Forest Service has locked out cattle belonging to ranchers in Otero County, N.M., because it wants to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse. Photo from KVIA-TV.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

The dispute isn’t over between ranchers whose cattle have been locked out of drinking from a creek in southern New Mexico by federal agents who say the water is vital in order to protect a mouse expected to be listed as an endangered species.

What was called a “facilitated discussion” was held Friday morning in Albuquerque at the U.S. Attorney’s Office between officials from Otero County representing the ranchers and about a dozen representatives of the federal government, including the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Justice.

But no agreement was reached between the two sides, according to Blair Dunn, the county’s attorney.

“Basically, the Forest Service said they don’t have the authority, and neither did DOJ or anyone at that meeting, to just allow the gate to be opened,” Dunn told New Mexico Watchdog.

Phone messages left with acting U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, Damon Martinez, and to the communications office of the DOJ’s office in Albuquerque were not returned as of 5 p.m. Friday. Update: At 5:48 p.m., public affairs officer Elizabeth Martinez of the Department of Justice District of New Mexico office released a brief statement saying  “no resolution was reached” at Friday’s meeting.

The controversy marks another battle in the West between the federal government — which owns vast expanses of land in states like New Mexico, Utah and Nevada — and local ranchers who graze their cattle.

In Otero County, the officials at the U.S. Forest Service have fenced off access to water for the ranchers’ grazing cattle, hoping to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse, which is expected to be listed as an endangered species next month.

The Forest Service says it is worried cattle will damage 23 acres along the Agua Chiquita that includes a natural spring. Opponents say the federal government has no right to control access to the water their cattle, thirsty from a long drought that has hit New Mexico, need.

The environmental group WildEarth Guardians, which has been lobbying to put the meadows jumping mouse on the endangered species list, sent out a letter Friday just before the meeting started, calling on the feds to keep the fences up.

MOUSE IN THE MIDDLE: The meadow jumping mouse is expected to be listed as endangered next month.

“There is an all-too-common misconception in some western rural communities that ranchers somehow have a ‘right’ to graze by the virtue of their grazing permits,” citing a number of court cases as well as the Enabling Act the state of New Mexico signed in 1910 before becoming the nation’s 47th state.

“Our national forests do not belong to a permitee who would like to exploit their resources or local politicians who would allow it,” WildEarth Guardians program director Bryan Bird said in the letter. “They belong to all Americans.”

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Dunn said in a telephone interview. “In the past when we’ve had drought and problems, the Forest Service came and opened the gate … but they didn’t have any interest in doing that” Friday.

Before Friday’s meeting the ranchers had asked Sheriff Benny House to cut off the locks. House attended the meeting Friday but it’s not clear what the next step will be.

Dunn said Otero County officials will look into filing criminal complaints and civil lawsuits against the feds as well as asking the U.S. Congress to look into the issue.

Before Friday’s meeting, Rep. Steve Pearce, R-New Mexico, told Associated Press, “These disputes could be easily avoided if federal bureaucrats would stick to their constitutional oath and respect property rights.”

The Otero County standoff comes one month after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy squared off against officials at the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy, who has lost
repeatedly in court, tends his cattle on federal land. After the BLM tried to round-up his cattle and sparked a protest, the BLM stopped the roundup and is considering what to do next.

“They (the federal agents at Friday’s meeting) don’t want to have a Bundy Ranch situation,” Dunn said. “But they wanted to try to push the county and the sheriff to tell their citizens to quiet down. That was what repeatedly came up was, ‘we really can’t promise to open the gate and we can’t really promise you anything to make things better but we want you to help us and go down there and get everybody to be quiet .’ As much as anything it was said to the county, you better quiet down or we’ll come after you.”

“The Forest Service is well within its right to completely restrict access the area and the water therein, a measure that WildEarth Guardians would support to ensure protection of the jumping mouse,” Bird said in his letter. “Furthermore, such a complete restriction would be reasonable as it would apply to a mere 23 of the28,850 acres (less than .1 percent of the grazing at issue), and there is other water access therein that the permittee can use for cattle.”

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

Watch out, Bambi! Hunters can still use drones — for now

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-05-15 15:51

DEATH FROM ABOVE?: New Mexico is considering an outright ban of drones that are used to help hunters track down big game.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – Look out, Bambi. You’re still in danger from drones in New Mexico.

On Thursday, the State Game Commission decided to wait until next month to consider outlawing hunters from using drones in New Mexico.

“We’ll take a good, hard look to see if it’s within our power to get an outright ban,” commission chairman Paul Kienzle said as the seven-member board unanimously voted to table a proposal that would prohibit what scientists call “unmanned aerial systems” from tracking down big game by monitoring their activity from the air.

“It’s a fair chase issue,” Robert Griego, colonel of field operations at the New Mexico Game and Fish Department told New Mexico Watchdog. “That’s what we always want to maintain. We don’t want things to get to the point where it’s just like shooting fish in a barrel.”

“A person can use a drone to find a trophy animal or simply find all the animals and get a head start on other hunters,” said John Crenshaw, board president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “It’s unfair to the hunters and it’s unfair to the game.”

“It’s just wrong,” said Elisabeth Dicharry, an open spaces advocate from Los Lunas who wants to see an outright ban. “All species (such as coyotes and prairie dogs) should not be hunted with drones.”

The federal Airborne Hunting Act prohibits the use of aircraft to track or shoot animals, but there is no federal law covering drones.

The measure tabled Thursday would make it illegal to use drones “to signal an animal’s location, to harass a game animal or to hunt a protected species observed from a drone within 48 hours.”

“It’s starting to grow nationwide,” said Oscar Simpson, chairman of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “I was talking to some sportsmen people here in New Mexico over the last nine months and I had three of them say their hunts were screwed up because somebody used a drone to move an elk out of the way, or to move it down to where they were.”

New Mexico isn’t the only state to consider outlawing drones for hunting.

Alaska, Colorado and Montana have already passed bans, and a combination of sportsmen’s groups and animal protection agencies are calling for states across the country to join in.

“As the price of drones comes down, they have a lot of potential for abuse,” Crenshaw told commissioners. “It seems the electronics is outrunning the rulemaking.”

While using drones for hunting is under fire, drones have also been used in places such as Africa to protect animals against poachers and to track the movement of herds for wildlife research.

“You’d look at having a research, a law enforcement exception,” Kienzle said after the meeting.

In an unusual twist, in Massachusetts, representatives of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used drones to videotape hunters in the field. PETA said it did so to make sure hunters were obeying the law.

“To me, using drones to monitor wildlife or monitor hunters, that would be harassment,” Simpson said.

The New Mexico Game Commission plans to bring the issue up again when it meets next month in Ruidoso.

Drones aren’t new to New Mexico.

The state is home to the only flight test center approved by the Federal Aviation Administration — the Unmanned Aerial Systems Technical Analysis and Applications Center at New Mexico State University — that flies and tests drones in the southern portion of the state.

Drone deployment has spiked across the country in recent years. They’ve been employed, for example, by highway officials to check traffic conditions and by forest rangers to track forest fires.

Last December, amazon.com executives unveiled plans to use drones to deliver packages.

But there’s been pushback, with some civil libertarians expressing concern about drones being used as “Big Brother” and invading privacy.

Legislation was introduced in Louisiana and an ordinance put up for a vote in Colorado that went so far as to allow property owners to shoot down drones for trespassing. Neither measure passed.

As for drones and hunting in New Mexico, here’s more from Oscar Simpson:

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

Hispanic lawmaker blasts ‘Anglo Democrats,’ then apologizes … to some

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-05-14 18:26

‘TREACHERY IN OUR RANKS’: Longtime Democrat in the NM House of Representatives, Miguel Garcia, attacked “Democratic Anglo newcomers” in an email.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A longtime Democrat in the New Mexico House of Representatives apologized Wednesday for a blistering email he sent to fellow House members, urging opposition to two white Democratic candidates running against Hispanic candidates in the upcoming June 3 party primary.

In a portion of the email under the heading, “Treachery In Our Ranks,” Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, called on members to support Andrew Barreras and Frank Otero in their respective primaries over fellow Democrats Jim Danner and Teresa Smith de Cherif in Valencia County.

“A minority of unsuspecting Democratic leaders are supporting the Democratic Anglo newcomer opponents in Andrew’s and Frank’s primary races. Anglo Democrats with egos as big as Texas, mouths as big as the Grand Canyon, and much ‘green’ (moolah) from the East and the West Coast,” the email said, as first reported by KRQE-TV.

At first, Garcia did not apologize for the email, sending a text to KRQE that said, “I did not send the email to the media. I have nothing to share regarding my email seeking support for two outstanding candidates.”

But news of the email spread quickly across the state and by Wednesday afternoon, Garcia apologized for making “inappropriate comments.”

Garcia also released an email he sent to Danner to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“I want to ask for your forgiveness regarding the negative manner in which I questioned your character or campaign pursuits,” Garcia wrote. “It is not in me to speak negatively of fellow Democrats, or anyone for that fact, that I am not personally acquainted with or familiar with. In my legislative career I pride myself on always taking the ‘moral high ground’ on issues of bigotry, discrimination, inequality, prejudice, intolerance, hatred — I faltered in reaching that in my email.”

But Garcia, who has served in the House for 17 years, did not apologize for the attacks he made in his original email on two incumbent Republicans in Valencia County and one incumbent Democrat who sometimes sides with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

In reference to Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, Garcia called Jeff “a renegade Democrat who licks the Governor’s (armpits).”

He referred to Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, as a “loyal lapdog” of Martinez and wrote that Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, “always falls in line every time Gov. Martinez snaps her blood-stained fingers.”

“I feel it’s pretty disgusting,” Jeff told New Mexico Watchdog. “I don’t think, as Democrats, that’s not our values. He should be ashamed. That’s a personal jab.”

Baldonado said he doesn’t think Garcia owes him an apology. “He can’t change his perspective on things if that’s the way he looks at things,” Baldonado said in a phone interview.

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

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