Saturday, February 27, 2010

Colonias Bill, Whistle Blowers Bill, Signed Today in Las Cruces: Significant Pieces of Legislation

It was ostensibly the governor's show, as he came to town to sign four bills, but the master of ceremonies, appropriately, was Senator Mary Kay Papen, who presided over the signature event in the Auditorium at Corbett Center, NMSU, and who was the steward of SB 279 through the legislature this year.

Before I go on, two persons not there yesterday were spiritual godparents of the bill, due to their dedication to the cause over many years: Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, who put the late Carlos Corral and (now Representative) Antonio Lujan two decades years ago to work with the poorest segments of society in Dona Ana County to help them empower themselves, and Oscar Butler, perhaps the first member of the political class in the county to demand that issues affecting colonias be placed on the political agenda, at a moment when it was not politically popular or rewarding to do so. The groundwork laid by the Diocese and by Commissioner Butler, and many others, provided the colonias with the experience it took to get this bill moving.

SB 279, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen in the Senate, and co-sponsored by Rep. Andy Nunez, for the first time creates a stream of revenue to be used exclusively for colonias infrastructure development. The funding source is to be 5% of the revenues earned by Permanent Severance Tax bonds (technically, senior water bonds); an equal amount, appropriated in a separate but parallel bill, will be given for infrastructure development for Native Americans in New Mexico, who comprise 10% of the state's population. These funds don't come out of the General Fund, so they didn't affect the budget this year. Until now infrastructure for colonias came from a very messy, iffy, highly unpredictable, and altogether unsatisfactory process by which capital outlay funds were distributed, often in a highly charged political environment. This is a permanent fix and puts the poorest communities in the state in a position to receive the most basic infrastructure needs in an orderly way that permits long-term planning. This year the revenues would have provided about $22 million to be split between colonias infrastructure and Native Americans.

I have often been critical of the legislature this year, and there is even a possibility I will be again. The signature of this bill into law, in the middle of a severe financial crisis, is an example of how grassroots action, coordinated with elected officials, tossed into the difficult process by which bills become laws, can result in legislation that responds to real needs. The state legislature can hold its head up high for having passed these bills.

People in the know tell me it was a skilled team effort that brought this bill in: Rep. Joseph Cervantes helping out at critical times, Sen. Cynthia Nava helping Sen. Papen on the floor, Rep. Nunez keeping it alive in the House, etc. This is, of course, how it should be, but sometimes isn't. Not to be shortchanged: the hard work Senator Howie Morales, from Grant County put into getting this passed. Mr. Morales has shown a lot of evidence in a very short time that he is a worthy successor to the late Senator Ben Altamirano: bright, hard working, sensible.

HB 165, the so-called Whistle Blower bill, sponsored by Joseph Cervantes, was signed, in the presence of the spiritual godmother of the bill, Frances Williams, who was in attendance at the Auditorium. This bill makes it more difficult for retribution to be extracted against persons who complain about irregular or illegal or inapproriate behavior in state government. Williams blew the whistle on the activities of Smiley Gallegos, under indictment today, only to find herself threatened by lawsuits, and sometimes ostracized by some Democrats who should have learned in infancy that loyalty to honest government far outranks loyalty to party members who have betrayed the public trust and who stain the reputation of the party.

Senator Nava made brief mention of the passage of HB 100, which enables fire departments to write in stipends for gas and other incidental expenses that currently have to be paid for out of the pockets of volunteers. The origin of this bill was a chilly evening in December at the Mesquite Fire Station last December (see my post, "Is There Something Wrong With This Picture?" Dec. 29, 2009) when Chief Alfred Nevarez complained he was having serious difficulties recruiting volunteers and keeping the ones he had, among other reasons because of the price of gasoline and other expenses his volunteers were having to pay in the course of responding to calls. Senators John A. Smith, Papen, and Cynthia Nava were present at the meeting. I was particularly struck by the irony that Nevarez had no resources, but Smith indicated the governor, in the middle of a fiscal crisis, felt it necessary to keep handing over $82 million per year to Hollywood in a program in which experts say the state gets only 15 cents or so on the dollar in return. It was gratifying to see that that small meeting resulted in legislation. Let's hope it helps out our friend Fire Chief Nevarez.

Other bills were signed as well. One, which brought the mayor to the occasion, was the TIDDS bill that passed for Las Cruces, bringing in a few million. Let's face it: this is pork, even when it is good news that it will at least come into Dona Ana County. Does the City need the money as much as teachers and state government workers being asked to sacrifice themselves to protect the governor's Hollywood giveaway? You be the judge.

Finally, Spaceport officials were trotted out to plug the Spaceport one more time, boasting about a bill to force space-ship owners to warn clients about possible dangers before flying, but then forbidding relatives, in case of disaster, to sue the owners for negligence, no matter how negligent they might be. In my view this is not a great trade-off or landmark issue in state policy, but even if you agree with it hardly an occasion for plugging the spaceport. In some corners of the county there is still a deep resentment about the Spaceport. The governor used all of his prestige three years ago to ask county residents to raise their taxes to pay some of the bills for the spaceport. A strong grassroots organized effort, based in the South Mesilla Valley, opposed the tax hike, nearly defeating it. Some citizens have recently complained that the contracts that were promised for Las Cruces and the county have been passed out to Albuquerque firms or out of state firms, and there are other complaints about the need to subsidize private out of state corporations during a serious fiscal crisis in the state. So, without giving opponents of the Spaceport a chance to rebut the argument, the Governor took advantage of the occasion to tell his side of the story.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Beat Goes On: 14 Executed Over the Weekend

Twelve persons were executed on Saturday in Cd. Juarez, and two on Sunday. On Saturday the grisly beat began at 8:00 in the morning when a couple in a green Explorer were intercepted on Blvd. Independencia and forced out of their car. The couple evidently tried to flee but both were gunned down. Children in their vehicle were taken to social services. At 9:00 a man was found dead on a street. Neighbors reported that a man, Oscar Omar Perez, had dragged the body from his home, trying to hide it among some used tires on the street. He was arrested. Then two bodies riddled with bullet wounds were found, apparently tossed from a vehicle, in Col Salvarcar. Then three more men were found dead from gunshot wounds they suffered in a gray 2005 Equinox. Later three more men were executed as they watched a soccer match on television in the home of one of the men.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The 2010 Republican Primary: Domenici-Martinez-Weh After Lap One

If you read the posting below you know that some of the Republican candidates for governor did not like the findings of a poll 28 students conducted under my supervision in my Government 300 (Political Research Skills) class. Here is most of the report:

The Governor's Race

Since it is relatively early in the primary election season and only four weeks since Pete Domenici, Jr. announced he would run for governor, we decided to test name recognition by asking each respondent, without any prompting, if they knew the names of any of the Republican candidates for governor. The results are as follows:

Domenici: 36.3% named him as a candidate without prompting
Weh: 21.6% named him as a candidate without prompting
Martinez: 18.2% named her as a candidate without prompting
Turner: 16.7% named him as a candidate without prompting
Arnold-Jones: 7.9% named her as a candidate without prompting

Unable to identify a single candidate: 46% (203 out of 444)

Preferences for candidates

After determining voter recognition we then read the names of each of the gubernatorial candidates, rotating their names sequentially each time, asking, "is there a candidate you intend to vote for, or that you are leaning toward? Results:

Not Sure or Refuse to Answer: 42.6%
Pete Domenici, Jr. 29.3%
Susana Martinez: 11.5%
Allen Weh: 7.4%
Doug Turner 6.8%
Janice Arnold-Jones 2.5%


Comparing the results of the recognition question with the preference question, we wondered how much of the lead Domenici has over his second place opponent in the preference question might be due simply to the higher name recognition he enjoys. So we identified those respondents who had been able to identify BOTH Domenici and Martinez in the name recognition question, and then compared their preferences between the two candidates. There were 52 such respondents, and their preferences were distributed as follows.

Not Sure Domenici Martinez Turner Weh Arnold-Jones Total
12 (23%) 13 (25%) 21 (40%) 3 (6%) 2 (4%) 1 (2%) 52 (100%)

While the sample size is not large enough to permit definitive conclusions, the dramatic shift in voter preference toward Martinez among those who are in a position to compare both Domenici and Martinez, in contrast to the preference toward Domenici among those who are not, suggests Martinez's appeal, should her name recognition improve significantly, might be higher than suggested by the results of the preference question alone.

It should also be noted that the undecided vote among those who are able to identify both Martinez and Domenici declined to 23% compared to the 42.6% in the preference question. Again, the low sample size does not permit definitive conclusions, but this reduction, when combined with the relatively low performance of Weh in the preference question despite his relatively high name recognition (higher than Martinez's) and the relatively low performance of Turner and Arnold, suggests--other things being equal--this is likely to become a two-person race in the next few weeks between Domenici and Martinez. Other things may not be equal, however, and the relatively high overall number of undecided voters still offers a great deal of room for any one of the candidates to surge ahead.


A Hispanic woman is on the list of candidates, so even though only about 14% of likely voters in the Republican primary in New Mexico are Hispanic, we thought it would be interesting to see if the strong ethnic patterns that exist within the Democratic Party are in evidence in the Republican Party. In order to have an adequate sample size we over-polled Hispanic Republicans, and 24% of our total sample was Hispanic. The results among Hispanic respondents are as follows:

Not Sure D0menici Martinez Turner Weh Arnold-Jones Total
37 (36%) 40 (37%) 19 (18%) 4 (4%) 3 (3%) 4 (4%) 107 (100%)

Surprisingly, Domenici, who is not Hispanic, received roughly twice as many votes from Hispanics as Susana Martinez. Some of this may be due simply to the higher name recogntition Domenici enjoys among Hispanics, as discussed in the previous section. Fully 49 out of the 107 Hispanics could identify Domenici while only 26 of 107 were able to identify Martinez. Among those Hispanics who could identify both Domenici and Martinez, only 13 (8-5 in favor of Domenici) expressed a preference for one or the other, too small a sample to be meaningful. Some of the support from Hispanics may also reflect the relatively warm and consistent support Hispanics of both parties provided to Domenici's father. It is too early to tell whether Domenici's support among Hispanics (and, indeed, non-Hispanics as well) will continue as voters react to what they learn about him, rather than to his father's strong image. And wile 24% of the sample was Hispanic, only 12.5% of those expressing a preference for Weh or Turner were Hispanic, suggesting a relatively low level of appeal for them among Republican Hispanics.


Since there are three men and two women running for governor, we wondered if a gender preference would show up in interviews. The data shows this does not appear to be the case. Overall, 15% of the women voted for either Martinez or Arnold, while 14% of the men voted for Martinez or Arnold. The one percent difference is well within the margin of error. And the difference between men and women in choosing individual candidates is well within the margin of error, given the relatively small sample sizes. The gender breakdown per candidate is as follows:

Not Sure Domenici Martinez Turner Weh Arnold Total
Fem: 92 (40%) 72 (31%) 27 (12%) 15 (6%) 20 (9%) 7 (3%) 233 (100%)
Male: 89 (45% 54 (27%) 23 (12%) 14 (7%) 13 (7%) 4 (2%) 197 (100%)

Other Findings:

Republicans in New Mexico are dissatisfied with Governor Richardson and President Obama. Only 11% of those polled approve of the job Bill Richardson is doing as governor and only 10% approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as President

Bottom Line

As might be expected, given the initial advantage of his father's name, Domenici appears to have gotten off to a strong start. However, among voters who are familiar with Both Domenici and Martinez, Martinez appears to be highly competitive and quite possibly ahead. But in order to close the gap she must raise the level of familiarity between herself and Republican voters. And unless the other three candidates can significantly improve their appeal, the Republican gubernatorial primary election is likely to end up a two-person race between Domenici and Martinez.

In this poll 444 Republicans who voted in one or both of the last two Republican primary elections in New Mexico, randomly selected, were interviewed by telephone. A quota of completed calls, based on population, was reached for each of the 33 counties to assure geographic representation. The poll was taken by 28 students in Government 300, Political Research Skills, at New Mexico State University. Dr. Jose Z. Garcia, the instructor in the class, made 17 calls. Calls were made between Tuesday February 9 and Saturday morning February 13. The overall results should be accurate within 5% points, at a confidence level of .95. The random list of Republicans, and other technical assistance, was kindly supplied to us by Research and Polling, Inc., the firm that polls for the Albuquerque Journal.

Shooting the Messenger: See Next Posting: Results from a Student Poll of Republicans

For years I've had my students poll voters' preferences. They tend to be pretty good at it, unbiased, sometimes catching unexpected trends and sometimes angering candidates who don't like the results. In 1998, for example, my students found gubernatorial candidate Marty Chaves 10 or 11 points behind Governor Gary Johnson. He was not happy with this finding, and pointed out that a previous poll taken about 3 weeks earlier, had the race too close to call. I stood by my students and told him we had caught a new statewide trend against him which would show up in the subsequent polls. Not satisfied, he prepared a letter to send to the Las Cruces Sun News suggesting that, "with all due respect, Dr. Garcia should leave polling to the professionals." A mutual friend convinced him my previous polls had been pretty accurate; he would look silly if we were right, and in any case there was no percentage in insulting the integrity of 35 students at NMSU, much less a respected professor. So he did not mail the letter. He lost the race to Johnson by 12 points.

This year my students polled all 33 counties to see what Republicans were thinking about the governor's race. Once again candidates who didn't like the results were shooting the messenger. In a story written by Diana Alba of the Las Cruces Sun News Allen Weh suggested I was a "staunch supporter of Susana Martinez," (I am a Democrat) when he apparently did not like our findings that Martinez was ahead of him among those expressing a preference. This seemed to me to be a strange explanation of the results, which also showed Domenici to be way ahead of Martinez, and with Domenici having twice the number of Hispanics supporting Martinez. I would have thought it more likely that Martinez would criticize these results as being implausible. Someone from Janice Arnold Jones' campaign suggested the numbers in their "internal polling" differed from ours, which may be the case, but "internal" polling is notoriously biased in favor of the candidate doing the polling, and my students or I have no reason to be anything but as accurate as possible in reporting the results. I happen to have a soft spot in my heart for Arnold-Jones, for her courage and leadership last year in turning on a webcam in spite of House leadership opposition, in a committee meeting. But this soft spot did not stop me from reporting the results as accurately as I know how. I also have a healthy respect for Susana Martinez's vote-getting ability, since she was able to beat Greg Valdez, a former District Attorney, with a vote of 61%, when she last ran with opposition in a county (population 209,000) with a 2-1 majority of Democrats and in which Republicans rarely win any county-wide offices at all. But this didn't prevent me from reporting that she is much softer than you would expect among Hispanic Republicans, or that Allen Weh's name recognition is higher than hers. Just as I did when Marty Chavez sneered at my students' work, in this case I will firmly stand by the results of the poll my students took last week.

Having said this, it is also important to remain humble. There is always a chance of error. Even the most prestigious and experienced pollsters sometimes get it wrong. In almost all polls there is a 5% chance reality is actually outside the margin of error, no matter how well done. We try to instill in our students the importance of doing research as carefully and honestly as possible: it is easy to screw up.

By the time the next poll is taken the numbers will have changed as candidates get their names better known and their messages out. My bet is that the numbers will be compatible with what this poll shows about the horse race after the first lap. And I'll bet that between now and then--even if they deny it--those candidates not happy with the results will be using the information to make adjustments to their campaigns!

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Quick Take on the Regular Session

For the second year in a row the Speaker of the House was unable to deliver the votes at the last minute, and as a result a Special Session is required. Last year, you may recall, the Speaker lost an Albuquerque TIDDS bill he badly wanted at the last minute in front of a packed House gallery full of TIDDS supporters, and he was shamed into withdrawing a pork provision to finance a movie studio for a Santa Fe film company (which had failed earlier as a regular bill) when Sen. John A. Smith opened up a conference committee to the news media (See my coverage of this here on March 21 2009).

This year the Speaker and the governor were not able to twist enough arms to get the House to pass a budget bill, which is the one thing a 30-day session is intended to produce.

The Senate did its job. It came in with a $5.275 billion budget, a reasonably responsible level. You can argue with what they did and failed to do, such as playing with, rather than enacting, ethics reform, but senate leaders did produce a balanced budget with modest spending cuts and light tax increases. They also acted with more courage than usual, lining up enough votes to request an Extraordinary Session, which would enable the legislature to deal with the budget on their own terms rather than on the governor's. Last October the governor produced a Special Session agenda that essentially hamstrung the legislature's ability to deal with the fiscal crisis in a responsible way, and the Senate did not want to give the governor a chance to do the same again. The House leadership, of course, deferred to the governor, and there will be no Extraordinary Session but the senate movida certainly underscored the lack of independence between House leadership and the lame duck governor, and provides perhaps some perspective on the House's refusal to go along with the Speaker on the budget at the last minute.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Candidates Sign up For Municipal Positions in Anthony

Yesterday was the filing deadline for offices for the new municipal government in Anthony, New Mexico, and there was no shortage of applicants for the elected positions.

Seeking the mayorship are Daniel Barreras, Sergio A. Copado, Ramon S. Gonzalez, Ramon M. Juarez, and Carlos Romero.

Candidates for municipal judge are Ann Frances Hernandez and Peggy Sue Scott.

For city council: Juan M. Acevedo, Adolfo Almeida, Sr., Betty Gonzalez, Fernando Gomez Herrera, Hermelinda Lockett, Aurora Angelica Martinez, Alfonso A. Moreno, Diana Murillo, Eustacio A. Olivas, Eva R. Rangel, Juanita J. Salazar, James G. Scott, Brendan Yoder.

Conspicuously absent from the list of candidates for mayor was Victor Montoya, who helped organize the push for incorporation and was often the public "face" of the group advocating incorporation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

John A. Smith on "Responsibility:" Legislature Has Until Thursday to Spend Your Money: Hollywood has Spent $46 Million of Your Money So Far This Year

The New Mexico State Legislature must finish business by noon on Thursday and there is still a good deal of work left to do.

The Senate passed a budget bill yesterday I believe at $5.275 billion, (the Albuquerque Journal reported it at $5.5 billion) which would be within reasonably responsible limits, as opposed to the House budget of $5.6 billion, which is about $500 million more than our revenues are likely to be. Speaking of which, the LFC is projecting that revenues this year (FY2010) will come in $50 million shy of what was budgeted in the special session last October. So some extra trimming may have to be done on spending between now and June 30, just four and a half months away.

I spoke to Senate Finance Chair John A. Smith early this morning, trying to clarify a few details, and I used the word "responsible" in connection with the FY2011 Senate budget bill. He replied, "I'm beginning to wonder what being responsible is anymore," referring to the consistent pattern in the past two years of under-estimating the severity of the economic crisis in New Mexico. Every few weeks revenue projections are trimmed down, indicating that the economic downturn in New Mexico keeps getting worse than previously predicted. What appeared to be a responsible budget target of $5.2 billion now looks like it may have to be trimmed in order to remain within the constitutional duty to balance the budget each year.

But in a replay of the old game of "shoot the messenger," Smith continues to be vilified and demonized by some of the longest-necked ostriches in the legislature, whose heads have remained firmly in the sand for more than two years now.

Yes, many legislators, especially in the House, are still in deep denial. A bill to do away with the $82 million giveaway to Hollywood was tabled the first week in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee by a vote of 5-2. No debate, shush up, this is a program that is "near and dear" to the governor, so cut spending somewhere else or raise taxes during an economic crisis to pay for it. New Mexico smokers alone are being asked by a bill in the Senate to pay $1 more per pack to raise generate somewhere between $11 million and $30 million to help pave the way for Hollywood producers, who get a kickback of 25% (basically with no questions asked, just tell us what you spent, we trust you) of their New Mexico expenditures while filming here, and who generate about 14 cents in added business for every dollar spent on them.

Speaking of which, for the first six months of the fiscal year, which began June 30, Hollywood gobbled up $46 million of your taxpayer money for honoring us with their presence. At this rate taxpayers will pay $92 million to Hollywood this year instead of the $82 million spent last year, and who knows how much next year. It's almost as if the State Investment Council, which oversees the program, like Las Vegas hotels, is passing out 25% discount coupons to Hollywood producers to come to New Mexico; unlike Las Vegas, which makes a healthy profit for every coupon used, in New Mexico taxpayers lose 85 cents for every dollar spent of their hard-earned money. Just whose interests do you think are being served by this $92 million welfare check?

But capital outlay money for a park in the crime-ridden areas of Anthony, or infrastructure development in the South Mesilla Valley, or effective EMS service in Mesquite, or any of the other basic non-luxury items we talked about at that meeting with legislators in Mesquite last December? Oh, no, we have a serious fiscal crisis on our hands, didn't you know?

Friday, February 12, 2010

President Calderon's Visit:: He Heard the Insults, But Did He Listen? Juarez Skeptical

It was almost Santa Claus in February: President Calderon brought with him 40 day care centers, 15 public gathering places, 5 new high schools, 200,000 square feet of new pavement, and health care (Seguro Popular) for 300,000 juarenses without coverage.

Security? Of course! Another 2600 federal police, two more helicopters to add to the two already here, one more purge of local police, one new operational intel unit for the federal police, the establishment of well patrolled safety corridors, and new units to combat extortion and kidnapping. Plus, a plan to revise procedures by which citizens can complain about abuses by the armed forces

And, of course, a partridge in a pear tree.

But when the President apologized for being an hour late at the Cibeles Convention Center, Dr. Arturo Valenzuela told him, "yes, there was a delay, I'm not sure how much, perhaps two years."

And when the President announced the new security changes people in the audience shouted out it was more of the same. One man asked the secretary of federal public security, Genaro Garcia Luna, who was with the President, "who should we complain to about extortion when the people doing the extortion are the federal agents themselves?"

It must have been a long day for the president, who listened to the cries of the mothers of the high school victims, listened to the complaints of federal, state, and local police forces, listened to the insults hurled in anger from the crowd at Cibeles. He cannot have left Juarez yesterday without being far more aware than he was the day before about the anguish, anger, and frustration about the seeming inability of local, state, and federal law enforcement to control the violence, the homicides, the extortion, kidnapping, and overall unprecedented wave of crime that hangs over the fourth largest city in Mexico.

More on the President's visit later

Compiled from stories (here and here) in Diario

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

President Calderon to Visit Juarez Tomorrow

The Minister of the Interior (Gobernacion, in charge of internal affairs), Fernando Gomez Mont, has been in Juarez for the past few days meeting with the families of the massacred high school students and with local officials. He announced today that President Calderon will come to Cd. Juarez on Thursday to announce a new strategy for the security of the city.

There has been a good deal of criticism of the President in recent days, some directed at the President's seeming reluctance to come to Juarez, the most violent city in the world, and some at the strategies his administration has promoted for the security of Juarez, which have not prevented the homicide rate to escalate dramatically in the past year.

The is a good deal of speculation about the President's message when he arrives tomorrow. There has been talk of a $230 million (US) aid package to help Juarez get back on it's feet, and even more speculation about how that money would be spent: who would receive the money, and what decision making process would decide on priorities. Distrust of government runs extremely high in Juarez, and this is an election year, so there has been a lot of concern that any aid package would be used strictly for election purposes, with little accountability.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Legislature At Mid-Point: A Report Card from the South Mesilla Valley

Bottom Line: special interests still rule the House. In the middle of the worst fiscal crisis in the state's history, House leaders stubbornly refuse to touch the fat in state government, opting instead to raise taxes to protect the accumulated pork of seven years of drunken-sailor spending. They will cut some programs for the neediest citizens, and they appear to be putting unwarranted trust in the federal government to come through with a state bailout. The Senate, far more responsible with our taxpayer money, is hoping to hold the line, but you can still expect modest tax increases and only a light trim on spending. There will still be plenty of special interest fat in the budget, and our taxes will go up.

House leaders have already killed a bill to cut out the $82 million giveaway to the Hollywood movie industry, even though we know this "incentive" to make films in New Mexico produces a return of 14.4 cents on the dollar. But this is one of the governor's pet projects, so, of course, taxpayers interests don't count. Instead, the House on Friday passed a bill raising gross receipts taxes by one half of one percent, to raise $300 million. More than one quarter of this amount will go just for the welfare check to Hollywood. Teachers unions are lobbying hard to keep salaries of teachers untouched by fiscal hardship, as though somehow they were more needy than, say, veterans or the disabled, or the mentally ill, who will all face cuts. After lavishing the governor last year with the "Best Education Governor of the Year Award," hey, aren't they entitled to more than their fair share? University professors will take a cut in salary. But who cares? They didn't do anything to make the governor feel better last year, so there!

Speaking of universities, a full year after the scandals of the unbelievably high salaries for the newly bloated top bureaucracy at UNM, nothing has happened to change this, not even the seriousness of the fiscal crisis. And after years of increasing politicization of that university, and a year after the faculty gave an unprecedented vote of no confidence for both the president and board of regents member Jamie Koch, and in the middle of other scandals at UNM, the Senate voted with only five dissenting votes to confirm Jamie Koch, the governor's buddy, to another term as regent. Rewarding failure? Yes, but only for the top levels, just like they do on Wall Street.

The Senate is likely to pass a bill (SB182) recapturing about $150 million from capital outlay funds encumbered but not used. This sounds like a sensible way of avoiding further cuts. About $11 million of this will come from Dona Ana County. Sen. Michael Sanchez has a bizarre plan to raise several hundred million through bonds that dig into the state's permanent fund, as I understand it. Knowing some of the Senate Finance Committee members, I doubt this will get very far. The governor already raided the permanent fund several years ago to raise the cost of education, and with zero accountability: we still have no idea what happened to that money, but we do know student performance did not improve one bit and that the NEA gave him a national award. Expect the Senate to raise gross receipts taxes selectively, raising maybe $75 million compared to the $300 million in the House version.

All in all expect the Senate to come up with an appropriation budgeted at about $5.2 billion, compared with a House appropriation of $5.6 billion. Let's see if the Senate has the guts to treat public education like everything else, with modest cuts. And let's see if they have the guts to cut the governor's $10 million equestrian center for Albuquerque, which was slipped in again this year.

Reps. Andy Nunez and Joseph Cervantes are sponsoring a bill to create a permanent revenue stream for colonias infrastructure. Sen. Papen will sponsor the bill in the Senate. Native Americans are asking for the same thing for their communities. A few weeks ago I posted a note about a meeting various legislators had with community leaders in Mesquite to discuss the upcoming legislative session. Basic infrastructure in the neediest areas of the county--not equestrian centers, or higher paychecks for teachers, or welfare checks to Hollywood--were uppermost on their minds, very different priorities. It's good to know somebody in Santa Fe is fighting to do right for the South Mesilla Valley.

Grades: to the House: These are not normal times. We have a fiscal crisis on our hands. For failing to cut the fat, for demanding that taxpayers dig into their pockets to keep funding fat, and for failure to spread the pain evenly: D- so far this session. I know you can do much better than this.

To the Senate: Solid B so far, in spite of the vote on Koch. Could end up with an A if leadership is willing to keep fighting the battle of the fat and hold the line on spending.

The Beat: Nine More Executed Last Night

Note from Norte: Saturday evening was an active one for assassins. Five persons in a Chrysler Concorde were killed at around 4 p.m. at the intersection of Peru and Reforma by a group of assassins in various vehicles. Then two young men standing outside a store in Col. Eréndira were killed by gunmen who approached them and fired at close distance. Later two men were killed at a junkyard near Carlos Amaya and Tarahumara.

State Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches Will Move From Chihuahua to Juarez

Next week the officials comprising all three branches of state government will move from Chihuahua to Juárez, as a gesture of solidarity with the citizens of that city. The announcement was made Saturday afternoon at about 3 p.m. at a press conference in the palace of government in Chihuahua by Governor José Reyes Baeza Terrazas, who was accompanied by Rodolfo Acosta Muñoz, president of the Chihuahua State Supreme Court, by Fernando Rodríguez Moreno, leader of the caucus of PRI legislators, and by Sergio Granados Pineda, Secretary General of the state government.

This move doesn't mean that the state capital will move to Cd. Juárez. The governor indicated that in practical terms it meant state officials would remain in Cd. Juárez for three or four days a week, and spend the rest of their time attending to the needs of the state in Chihuahua. The move will be made for "an indefinite" period of time.

At the same press conference the governor indicated he would seek $3 billion (about $230 million US) in additional revenues from the federal government for Cd. Juárez to be used for education, day care centers, urban infrastructure, and social development. He indicated he would not insist that these funds be channeled through the state, but suggested the creation of a citizen's council to determine the best use of the funds.

He also said officials of all three branches of government would respectfully ask for President Calderon to visit Cd. Juárez, because "his presence is needed." Pointedly referring to President Calderon's recent visit to flood zones in the state of Mexico and in Michoacan, Governor Reyes Baeza said "there are many families hurting here, not from a natural disaster like a flood, but from an expression of violence that began here two years ago in Chihuahua, after the president asked us to join with him" in fighting organized crime.

Readers should remember that this is an election year that will decide the governorship for the next six years as well as all the mayors. Governor Reyes Baeza belongs to the PRI party, as does Mayor Reyes Ferriz. President Calderon is a member of the PAN party.

In a pointed question the governor was asked whether he would ask Juárez mayor Reyes Ferriz to return to live in Juárez. The mayor has been criticized in some quarters for his recent move from El Paso to a new residence in Las Cruces, New Mexico, forty miles away, apparently for security reasons. The governor's response was that it was up to the people of Juarez to make this request, but in his own case he will reside in Juarez and not in a neighboring city.

Compiled from stories in Norte and Diario.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cause of Death: Bullet Wounds and the Name of a Football Team: The Juarez Massacre

The fifteen dead youths went to high school at CBTIS 128. CBTIS stands for Center for Industrial Technology and Services Secondary Education. CBTIS schools are spread throughout Northern Mexico, and each one is numbered. American football is popular in Northern Mexico and CBTIS schools have a football league; students in the fourth to sixth semester, according to a story in Norte by Beatriz Corral Iglesias (click here) are eligible to play in the Double A category, Liga de Futbol Americano AA.

For weeks students on the Double A team planned a birthday party for one of their fellow athletes. The word went out that the Double A's were having a party. Everyone in Villas de Salvarcar knew about it.

But there is another group calling itself the Double A's (for "Artist Assassins") in Juarez: a violent street gang said to be involved in drug trafficking for Chapo Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel. Many homicides in Juarez are said to be the product of rivalries between the Double A's and the Mixcles, on the one hand, and the Aztecas or the La Linea gangs, associated with the Juarez Cartel, on the other.

So apparently when La Linea gang members found out the Double A's were having a party, they confused the high school football team with the rival gang and decided to interrupt the party.

Police Kidnap Youths Who Survived Massacre: Is This Normal Police Procedure?

Chihuahua State police officers in civilian clothes, wearing hoods, driving unmarked vehicles, On Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. barged into homes in Villas de Salvarcar and kidnapped four of the youths who survived the massacre last Saturday night. Although they identified themselves as police officers reports indicated they were brusque in manner, shoving the students into vehicles. Parents and neighbors at first thought the kidnappers were part of the death squad from Saturday night. It is not unheard of for kidnappers to pose as police officers. Told that their children, who ranged in age from 15-20, had been taken by police, the parents went to state police headquarters to inquire but were told they would have to wait until morning to learn whether police had taken them or not. The youths were returned to their homes at about 3:30 a.m. after five hours of questioning. By that time Tiempo, a digital newspaper in Chihuahua, was reporting the incident as a kidnapping by the killers.

Compiled from a story in Diario by Rocio Gallegos and Tiempo

Is there something wrong when the behavior of police and death squads is indistiguishable? Does this not tell us something about what the climate of fear in Cd. Juarez is doing to human relationships?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

No Evidence Any Youths Killed Were Connected to Gang Activity: Joint Operation Chihuahua

Enrique Torres Valadez, spokesperson for Joint Operation Chihuahua, told Norte yesterday there is no evidence linking any of the 16 youths killed at a party on Saturday night to the "Double A" (Artistas Asesinos) gang.

José Dolores Arroyo Chavarría, arrested on Monday during a shoot-out, has confessed publicly that he was a lookout ("hawk") for the La Linea organization, and that on Saturday night he was told by his boss to serve as a lookout for an operation in Villas de Salvárcar. He was told there would be an execution of "doblados," members of the Artistas Asesinos (also known as Double A) gang that, he said, work for Chapo Guzman (head of the Sinaloa cartel) in Juarez. After the execution he was told to go home. Mr. Arroyo Chavarria was arrested on Monday during a shoot-out with military personnel in which his boss, Adrián Ramírez, known to him only as "El Rama" or "el 12," was killed. Arroyo claimed in his confession his boss was killed while he and his boss were on an operation to execute a couple belonging to the Double A gang. His confession, reported in Diario, can be found here.

It was apparently on the basis of this confession that President Calderon suggested in Tokyo that the massacre was part of a feud between rival gangs, a remark that has infuriated not only the family members of the victims, but also large sectors of the local community.

Mr. Torres, spokesperson for Joint Operation Chihuahua, said the investigation has not yet pinpointed the person or persons who were the targets of the attack.

A good number of homicides in Juarez are attributed to feuding over turf between the La Linea and the Azteca gangs, on the one hand, who are said to be controlled by the Juarez cartel, and the Mexicle and Double A gangs, on the other hand, who are said to be controlled by the Sinaloa cartel. According to conventional wisdom much of this has to do with control over the expanding retail drug trade in Juarez.

Compiled from stories in Norte and Diario, February 3 and 4.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Juarez Angered At President's Insensitivity

In Japan when asked by reporters to comment on the murder of 16 youths at a party last Saturday night, President Felipe Calderon dismissed the killings as "probably" a feud between rival gangs, apparently unaware that all evidence suggests a case of mistaken identity. Chihuahua Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez indicated in an interview yesterday that most of the youths killed clearly were students, innocent of any wrongdoing. They were killed she said, by a team of assassins from the La Linea organization who thought they were killing members of the "Double A" gang, apparently a group thought to be associated with Chapo Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel. She indicated that some of the adults at the festivities may have been part of that organization.

Hérika Martínez Prado, of Norte reported various comments made by family members of the victims reacting to the president's remarks. One comment: "We'd like President Calderon to show his face here. What would he do if one of these innocent boys were his child? He'd be moving earth, sky and sea to find those responsible, but since they have nothing to do with him he does nothing, nor Mayor Reyes Ferriz and Governor Baeza. Do they want us to arm our children?"

Thus far, one person has been arrested in connection with this crime, José Dolores Arroyo Chavarría, 30, who, police say, has admitted he was a "hawk" (lookout) for the La Linea organization during the massacre last Saturday night. Police told a Diario reporter they have identified other members of the assassination team and are hunting them down.

Compiled from stories in Norte and Diario, February 3, 2010.