Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kewa Pueblo aims to take once iconic trading post from ruins to revitalized

One of the most fun things about this job is getting out and doing stories in places other than the Capitol.

Here's one I did Friday.

The folks below are travelers Alan and Bonnie Lurie of New Jersey. They are months too early to see the revitalized trading post at Kewa Pueblo I wrote about, but had fun stopping by for a photo anyway.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Martinez calls on Denish/Colón to release foundation information

A day after she outlined her anti-corruption plan, GOP gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez is asking the Diane Denish/Brian Colón ticket to release information on the Moving America Forward Foundation. She'd like to know who contributed to the group and how it spent its money.

Colón was the treasurer of the Moving America Forward Foundation. The group has been criticized for refusing to reveal who contributed the $1.7 million the foundation raised in Richardson's early years in office.

First, a little background, courtesy of my colleague Steve Terrell.

The foundation surfaced as a target last year in whistle-blower Frank Foy's suit claiming political pressure from the Richardson administration resulted in the state making $90 million in bad investments with a Chicago firm.

In a motion filed last year, Foy's lawyer, Victor Marshall, claimed it "was used as a conduit for making kickbacks" and that "donors used the foundation to launder kickbacks and other illegal inducements in exchange for investment business or other valuable consideration from the Richardson administration, while perhaps making kickbacks tax deductible in the process."

A foundation lawyer last year called the motion "an irresponsible publicity stunt" and said none of the defendants or other people mentioned in Foy's lawsuit ever contributed to the foundation.

A Denish spokesman said she had no role with the foundation, and the group doesn't have to release donor info.

"As a 501(c)3, much like the Conservative Rio Grande Foundation, Moving America Forward was not obligated to disclose its donors. Diane Denish had no role with the foundation, but as someone who has worked with foundations and non-profits in the past, she understands the rules governing 501(c)3s," spokesman Chris Cervini said in an e-mail.

I have a message into Colón and will update when I hear back.

Update, 2:56 p.m.
This from Colón, through Denish's spokesman.

"Donors to 501(c)3s have a right to privacy under the law and I respect that right. Yet again, Susana Martinez is being hypocritical, asking for the release of private donor information from a 501(c)3, yet not demanding the same of conservative organizations such as the Rio Grande Foundation, which has done a lot of her heavy lifting by supporting right-wing bloggers such as Jim Scarantino."

Guess my next call is to Scarantino, although we're getting off topic a little here. . .

Update, 3:29

Scarantino said he's an independent contractor for the foundation and "isn't beholden to anybody."

"I've never been told to write something or not to," he said.

But, he said, he will release all funding information for the web site he edits, if Colón will do the same with the foundation.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Martinez outlines corruption plan

Susana Martinez chose the Metro Courthouse as a backdrop for the press conference she held this morning to announce her anti-corruption plans.

The six-part plan takes aim at lobbyists, ramps up penalties for crooked public officials and calls for webcasting and archiving all state government meetings, not just the Legislature. It also calls for a public corruption division in the State Police Department and would make not reporting a corruption related crimes a crime as well. In addition, Martinez said she wants to reform the capital outlay process, increase the campaign finance reporting and require ethics training for all public employees.

Corruption is a major issue in the gubernatorial election. The story I did when Diane Denish revealed her plan last July is available here.

Martinez running mate John Sanchez accompanied her, as did state Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell. A handful of protestors held signs that referenced her contributions from Bob Perry, a Houston homebuilder, and his wife, Doylene, who gave her a total of $450,000. Perry, a major contributor to New Mexico Republicans in recent years, is a major moneyman behind the infamous "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" ads that questioned the military record of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004. Democrats frequently have pointed that out.

The courthouse location choice, of course, was no coincidence, and Martinez did mention the scandal of former Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon in her speech.

Here's the plan:


Update, 9:52 am
I said earlier the event took place at the Bernalillo County Courthouse. Wrong place. It was Metro Court.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Katherine Miller named SF County manager

Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Katherine Miller is leaving the Bill RIchardson administration to become the Santa Fe County Manager.

"Katherine Miller made several significant contributions to our administration and did an excellent job as finance secretary at a time when we had to make some tough, but necessary budget decisions," Richardson said in a statement. "The Santa Fe County Commission obviously recognizes Katherine’s talents and her commitment to public service, and I wish her luck in her new role.”

Richardson appointed Dannette Burch to replace Miller, starting Sept. 2. Burch has worked as deputy secretary and state budget officer at DFA since 2003.

"Dannette Burch is a trusted advisor whose hard work and knowledge of the state budget is unmatched in state government," Richardson said. "I am pleased that Dannette is willing to take on this responsibility and guide us through the remaining budget decisions."

Heinrich and Barela leading in CD1

Say what?

Yep, both U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich and challenger John Barela are ahead in the polls in the race for the state's 1st Congressional District, according to their respective supporters.

From Heinrich's camp:
According to a survey conducted earlier this month among likely voters in the November election, Heinrich leads Barela by double digits — 53 to 41 percent. Heinrich has led in this race throughout the year with broad support. Heinrich leads Barela among Anglo and Hispanic voters, among both men and women, as well as with younger and older voters.

(That survey is from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research)

And from the state GOP, which points to a story on a survey showing the race is 51-45 in Barela's favor:

Survey USA polled 559 likely voters from July 22-25, with a margin of error of 4.2%. Barela’s lead exceeds the margin of error and he is also over the “magic” 50% line that pollsters like to talk about.

I got both press releases today, as I was getting ready to write something about another race that's apparently just as close. (The gubernatorial matchup.) But it seems that CD 1 might be just as up in the air as the Denish-Martinez contest, at least according to those polls...

Of course we could spend all day here arguing about the accuracy of polls.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Report: Blue Cross raised rates while piling up surpluses

A story on the New Mexico Independent says Blue Cross Blue Shield accumulated record surpluses while raising policyholder rates.

Reporter Bryant Furlow quotes the co-author of a new study saying Blue Cross' Parent Company, Health Care Service Corporation had very high surplus.

“HCSC’s $6.7 billion is the highest surplus I know of,” Sondra Roberto is quoted as saying. “It’s five times the amount regulators consider necessary for solvency protection.”

The story is worth a read, given Blue Cross' recent attempts to increase rates here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Richardson committed to avoiding state worker layoffs

There's no doubt state employees are again fretting over possible layoffs and furloughs amid the current budget crisis.

The numbers don't look good from any perspective, but a Gov. Bill Richardson spokeswoman said the governor will work to avoid pink slips.

"It’s too early to say exactly how the cuts will be implemented," said spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia. "Agencies have been preparing for a potential shortfall and were instructed to reduce spending by as much as 5% heading into the fiscal year. We will be working with agencies over the next few weeks to develop a plan for budget reductions. The Governor is committed to seeking options that avoid furloughs and layoffs."

Expect more hand wringing and talk of increased taxes as the state tries to climb out of this latest budget hole.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Legal fees for DOT nearly $5 million

Lawsuits involving the Rail Runner are contributing to the amount the state's Risk Management Division is spending on legal fees, I learned when looking through documents this week. Some lawmakers are not too happy about that. Read my story here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tom Udall is a TV show host

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall has launched a half hour "TV show" called the Udall Update. Sure, its a lot of PR, but it's funny how much Udall actually looks like a host, (think Dan Rather) and the background looks like an actual news studio (think PBS.)

The first episode was just posted. It features New Mexico's other three Congress people. Other shows will be available on his web site. The show will also be on local community access stations.

My guess is this is an extension of the frequent chats that Udall and U.S. Jeff Bingaman do with local (mostly radio) reporters to keep us apprised of what they are doing in Washington. Either that or Udall is running for a higher office . . . or a post on CNN.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Gubernatorial ads kinda nice

Seems like the gubernatorial race suddenly took a positive turn. Both Diane Denish and Susana Martinez have ads out today that are positive overall.

Denish's is upbeat and features women casually sitting around, talking about her more as a person than a politician.

Martinez' ad has police who promote their endorsement of her, although it starts with Darren White saying "Diane Denish helped abolish the death penalty, even for cop killers."

Update, 4:21 p.m.
At the same time, Democrats say in a news release that the ad features the former director of the state's Adult Parole Board, Bob Martinez. Gov. Bill Richardson removed Bob Martinez in August of 2004 for failing to notify victims of a parole hearing for sex-offender priest David Holley. Martinez apologized at the time and the parole was rescinded.

So maybe it's not all as nice as I thought. . .

Railrunner ridership down . . . and up

The number of riders who took one way trips on the commuter train in the second quarter of this year is down compared to the second quarter of last year.

But overall, the number of riders went up for the 2010 fiscal year compared to 2009.

Check out my story here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New law means you can skip MVD for 16 years

Under two laws inked by Gov. Bill Richardson, many motorists will be able to avoid the dreaded lines at MVD for 16 years by renewing their driver's license online, once MVD has its system up and running next summer.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict that sponsors Phil Griego and Nate Cote can coast to their respective re-elections, as anyone who can allow the public to skip the line at MVD is bound to be popular. . .

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

State to offer more voter registration

It was supposed to be that whenever you visit the state's MVD you could easily register to vote. But that wasn't happening, a coalition of voting rights groups that sued the state said.

Under a just released settlement agreement, the state will have a point person to deal with voter registration. Here is the news release from the groups, which include Project Vote.

See the settlement agreement below.
NM Settlement Agreement - TRD

Friday, July 2, 2010

Richardson appoints Theresa Becenti-Aguilar to PRC

Gov. Bill Richardson has appointed Theresa Becenti-Aguilar to the seat on the Public Regulation Commission left vacant by Carol Sloan, his office said today.

"Today I am pleased to appoint Theresa Becenti-Aguilar to the Public Regulation Commission," Richardson said in a statement. "She has the necessary experience and unique knowledge to hit the ground running to tackle issues that affect all New Mexicans."

Becenti-Aguilar won the Democratic primary for the seat. She faces Republican Gary Montoya in the November election.

According to Richardson's office, Becenti-Aguilar has worked as the Native American liasion for the PRC. She also set up the Tribal Working Group, which works with tribal leaders, PRC commissioners and the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department on telecommunication and utilities tax exemptions for Native Americans, Richardson's office said.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

End of stimulus funding worries state officials

It was good while it lasted. And while much of the federal stimulus money will be around for another year and a half, state agencies are already worried about what it will mean when that money is gone.

Read my story on that topic here.