Saturday, July 4, 2009

In the Spirit of 1776, Tea Party Ralliers Greet Firework Fans

Hundreds, if not thousands, of frustrated voters lined up along Alameda Boulevard on Saturday afternoon, for the second Albuquerque Tea Rally which organizers called The Spirit of 1776. They skipped backyard barbecues and weekend getaways to show their discontent for both political parties and "out of control spending" here and in Washington.

Some signed up to vote, others filled out pre-addressed post cards to members of the state's congressional delegation and even the governor. Most carried signs and wore red, white, and blue clothing and hats.

Firework fans headed to the City of Albuquerque's Freedom Fourth event at Balloon Fiesta Park honked their car horns at the T-partiers, in what appeared to be support, as they slowly moved their way down Alameda.

Parking lots near Telstar Construction company, which was ground zero for the rally, were full and both sides of the street were lined with hundreds more people carrying signs.

Event volunteers told us they were putting colorful stickers on attendees to try and get an accurate count. They also contracted for an aerial photograph and wouldn't say how many people attended until they counted voter signup, stickers, and looked at the overhead pictures.

Organizers said they'd also pinned small American flags on a pinwall signifying a voice for hundreds of New Mexicans who had sent notes of support, but were unable to attend the afternoon rally.

Weh Campaigning While He Explores 2010 Gubernatorial Nomination.

One of the people they might see in those aerial shots is Albuquerque businessman Allen Weh. He's sounding more and more like a man ready to shift gears from exploring a gubernatorial bid to an all out fight for the Republican Party nomination. He said people around the state are "appalled and astonished at the level of corruption in New Mexico."

Weh told us in this AUDIO INTERVIEW "if you think people are frustrated here, they're frustrated all over, and they're mad."

Weh said the people he's talking to are mostly upset with political corruption and the millions lost by the State Investment Council, which is chaired by Governor Bill Richardson.
When they get to the bottom of this we're going to have 90% of New Mexican's appalled. We're already astonished at the level of corruption in this state. People, regardless of their political persuasions, don't like someone stealing from the public coffers and that's what's been taking place.

The former Republican Party Chairman also criticized the National Education Association for giving Richardson its "Americas Greatest Education Governor" award yesterday in San Diego.

He says the Richardson administration has failed miserably and cited an Education Week report that ranks New Mexico 48th in the nation for school dropouts.

We asked Weh what he would do to improve graduation rates if he were elected:
We're going to compel change and keep kids in schools and in school seats. Before we add one more dime, before we throw one more dollar at the problem, we're going to peel the onion skin back at all the money that's being spent, because I submit that there's enough money to fund our schools and fund it [them] its just our priorities are wrong.
Weh said he'll make his final announcement for governor shortly after Labor Day:
I'm campaigning while I'm exploring, and exploring while I campaign because I'm not wasting one minute of time. When it gets around to the formal announcement phase, which is right after Labor Day, we won't look back and say we wasted July and August.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Gov. Richardson Gets NEA Honor - NM Teachers Head to Court.

Updated to include audio soundbites.

Just months after New Mexico lawmakers cut school funding in the state by $30 million, Governor Bill Richardson flew to San Diego today, from Cape Cod, where he is vacationing for 11 days, to accept the National Education Association's "America's Greatest Education Governor Award." The annual award recognizes governors who have made major state-level education strides that improve public schools.

While Richardson received the NEA award in California, teachers here in New Mexico are headed to court. They are battling a legislative decision to to close the state budget gap by increasing the amount teachers contribute to their pension plan.

During his acceptance speech in San Diego, Richardson told the NEA Union assembly that education has been his administration's top priority since he was first elected in 2002.
From increasing teacher pay, to ensure that we recruit and retain the best and brightest, to better preparing our kids by implementing a statewide preK program, I’m proud of the reforms we’ve made.
Richardson told the crowd (listen here) that he believes his education reforms will be a part of his eight-year gubernatorial legacy.

The governor, who only has 18 months left in his administration, got a warm reception when he said (listen here) that it's time to completely change the "No Child Left Behind," program. Richardson also said state's can't afford to stop spending money on educational reforms (listen here), because education, he believes, is the key to the nation's economic future (listen here).

Federal Stimulus Money Not For Teacher Raises

NEA-New Mexico president Sharon Morgan said New Mexico received a bundle of stimulus money for education, but teachers still took a hit:
The legislature still cut school funding in New Mexico by $30 million, and that's a problem. We believe we could be using stimulus money to make up that difference.
Lawmakers say across-the-board cuts were the only fair way to close the budget gap, but the NEA says investing in education pays bigger dividends down the road and helps the state weather downturns.

But Richardson told the NEA assembly he doesn't believe that states should balance their budgets on teacher's backs (listen here).

In May, Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, who was touting President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office, told Barbara Wold at DFNM, "New Mexico has received $450 million in education for pre-school through college to help with funding shortfalls."

Denish said:
Our job is to make sure the dollars are well spent. Most importantly, what we've seen is that times are tough and these funds can't come at a better time for those working for education.
In a good economy, millions of dollars for state education programs come from the State Land Office. It has seen a decline in money from a drop in oil and gas revenues over the last year.

Lawmakers say across-the-board cuts were the only fair way to close the budget gap, but the NEA says investing in education pays bigger dividends down the road and helps the state weather downturns.

The teacher's union isn't the only group criticizing the administration and lawmakers for reducing the budget.

State GOP spokeswoman Janel Causey said this Education Week report ranks the state's drop out rate 48th nationally. The report says only 56% of high school students in the class of 2006 graduated.

The NM Secretary of Education Dr. Veronic Garcia says criticism like that is unfair. "One statistic cannot be a grade for our entire educational system," Garcia said.

KOB TV 4 reporter Cris Ornelas talked to prospective republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh. Weh told Ornelas, "On education, Richardson and Denish have failed and they failed miserably."

But leaders at the NEA said Richardson stands out "for extending kindergarten to a full day and for raising teacher salaries."

The NEA's representative assembly, meeting in Southern California through Monday, is considering a blueprint for fixing the No Child Left Behind law which is up for renewal in congress this year according to Morgan.

She said a big part of the plan is adding more flexibility: "We would be able to measure growth rather than just a standardized test score. We all know students who don't test well, and no matter how great their teacher is, they may not test well."

The group is also working on a 12-point dropout prevention plan, and one part of the plan has been gaining traction in recent lawmaking sessions in Santa Fe, adds Morgan.

"It's having more individual attention to our students, so that they have smaller, safe schools, or if they're in a large school, smaller learning communities and smaller classes."

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel presented the award to Governor Richardson:
Governor Richardson speaks up on issues that affect children, and he follows up the talk with action,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA. “Realizing the impact early childhood education has on long-term success, he extended kindergarten programs to full-day classes. Despite criticism, he advocated for and passed a law to provide free preK for 4-year-olds.
In addition to his early childhood education efforts, the award recognized Governor Richardson for fighting to put physical education back into elementary schools and taking junk foods out, increasing teacher pay and restoring collective bargaining rights for educators.

"Governor Richardson has made great efforts to improve school funding, increase school employee salaries, and make sure that the needs of the whole child are considered in making education policy decisions,” said Sharon Morgan, president of NEA-New Mexico. “He has been a champion of both educators and students.

Richardson is just the second recipient of the award. He will return to Cape Cod to continue his vacation before returning to New Mexico by July 13th.

Photos Courtesy: NEA

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Heather Wilson Announces Her Plans on Facebook

Photo Credits: MG Bralley
No it's not "that." Former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson is not ready to make any political announcements. She hasn't decided whether or not she's going to jump into the Republican race for Governor in 2010. She's not being coy, but she is packing her bags for a long trip to Africa.

Wilson told her Facebook friends that she's making a journey to Sudan and Kenya. Her trip to the largest country in Africa begins tomorrow and is being sponsored by IRI, a non-profit organization funded by grants from the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

Wilson said while she's in Sudan she will meet officials from the parliament help train legislative staffs, and speak at a women's leadership conference:
I will be meeting with the Speaker of the Southern Sudan Parliament, conducting training and consultations with their legislators who are involved national security and international affairs matters, training the staffs of legislators on constituent service and communications, and speaking at a women's leadership conference sponsored by the UN Mission in Sudan and the US Agency for International Development. I will also be meeting with the leaders of all of the political parties in Southern Sudan about preparations for elections in 2010 and making sure that election is legitimate.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has also traveled to Sudan several times.

Just before announcing his presidential bid in 2007, the governor pressed Sudan President Omar al-Bashir to open the wartorn Darfur region to U.N. troops. He rode to the rescue again in September 2006 to rescue New Mexico resident and Chicago Tribune Journalist Paul Salopek who had been held by rebels for 38 days. In 1996 he traveled to the region to negotiate three international Red Cross workers, an American pilot, an Australian nurse, and Kenyan co-pilot who were taken hostage by rebels.

During her trip this month, Wilson will also travel to Kenya.
I will be meeting with the Minister of State for Defense and members of the Kenyan Parliament involved in national security matters.

Pondering Her Own Political Future?

We imagine that while she's working hard helping set up free elections in a country that didn't event allow political parties until the last four years, she may spend some time enjoying the sights, eating new food, and making new friends. She might spend some down time thinking about her own political plans.

Before traveling she talked about the 2010 race in New Mexico with Albuquerque Journal's Capitol Hill reporter Michael Coleman.

For readers without access to Wilson's Facebook Notes here's her message:

I'm leaving for Africa on Thursday. I'm going to Southern Sudan and Kenya to conduct training and consult with their governments and political leaders. The bulk of the trip will be in Sudan.

I was asked to do this by IRI, a non-profit organization funded by grants from the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

Sudan is the largest country in Africa. It gained its independence from Britain in 1956 and dissolved into decades of civil war between the largely Islamic north and the African south. The current government of Sudan in Khartoum came to power in 1989 in a coup. Their President, Umar al Bashir, has been indicted in the Hague for war crimes in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Opposition political parties were banned after 1989. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda spent significant time in Sudan before moving to Afghanistan. Estimates are that 2 million people died in the civil war and another 4 million were displaced. An additional 400,000 died in the Darfur genocide, where much of our attention has focused since 2003.

With the support and good offices of Kenya and the United States, a peace agreement between the north and the south was negotiated and signed in 2005. The agreement created a government of national unity based in Khartoum, created a provisional Government of Southern Sudan based in Juba, set the first free elections which are scheduled to take place in 2010 and scheduled a referendum on independence for the south in 2011.

Since 2005, the US has been working with the new government in Southern Sudan to build their capacity to be self-governing. That includes training of government ministers and staff, training of political parties (but not al Bashir's NDP), and helping the southern based Sudan People's Liberation Movement make the transition from being a rebel movement to being a national political party.

Some elements of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement were implemented early on, but progress on difficult issues has slowed. An all party conference hosted by the US in Washington last week was intended to make progress on outstanding issues -- most importantly marking the border and revenue sharing from oil. There is a serious risk of renewed violence if these matters are not resolved.

There is also a risk that Southern Sudan could vote for independence in 2011 and dissolve into the kind of failed state we see in Somalia because of tribal and war lord rivalries with weak institutions of government. The UN recently reported that killings in southern Sudan between rival militias exceeded deaths in Darfur for the same period. There is an opportunity over the next 2 years to significantly strengthen government and party institutions, build a sense of unity in Southern Sudan and reduce the levels of violence. My visit is part of that effort.

This is a country that has been torn by war for 45 of the past 55 years. The average age of the population is 19 years old. GDP per capita is $2,100 a year and unemployment is at 18%. Political parties were banned until 4 years ago and they have no history of self-government. They enjoy a young peace, but they have never had a free election and are learning what peaceful governance requires. The challenge is formidable.

While in Sudan, I will be meeting with the Speaker of the Southern Sudan Parliament, conducting training and consultations with their legislators who are involved national security and international affairs matters, training the staffs of legislators on constituent service and communications, and speaking at a women's leadership conference sponsored by the UN Mission in Sudan and the US Agency for International Development. I will also be meeting with the leaders of all of the political parties in Southern Sudan about preparations for elections in 2010 and making sure that election is legitimate.

In Kenya, I will be meeting with the Minister of State for Defense and members of the Kenyan Parliament involved in national security matters.

--Heather Wilson

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Photo Credit: MG Bralley

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obama's Rural Tour Includes Las Cruces, NM

Secy's Donovan and Vilsack
A day after First Lady Michelle Obama announced that nearly $13-million dollars was being granted to rural New Mexico Community Health Centers, the administration has announced President Barack Obama's 2009 Rural Tour will make a stop in New Mexico.

Las Cruces is the last city listed on the schedule for top Administration officials who will be crisscrossing the United States beginning tomorrow and ending in New Mexico on September 30th.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are scheduled to travel to Las Cruces, NM, to discuss rural infrastructure on the last day of the tour.

All of Obama's cabinet level secretaries are will be involved in the summer discussions on how communities, states, and the federal government can work together to strengthen rural America.

Both Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish and Governor Bill Richardson have already toured the state. They are working with communities from Farmington to Carlsbad and Deming to Raton to prepare to applications for federal grant money under the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Many communities are preparing to apply for broadband communication grants. Others are looking at health care and road projects. Many want grant money to help with refurbishing their schools.

Obama wants his rural tour listening sessions to focus on such issues as broad-based rural health, economic development, infrastructure, education, energy, natural resources, and agriculture. Events will be held in Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. And, Secretary Vilsack will hold listening sessions in additional states with local and state elected officials.

The White House said: The entire tour will provide an opportunity for the Obama Administration to listen to diverse voices throughout rural America, and to highlight its broader vision for growth and prosperity in these regions of the country.

The tour kicks off tomorrow with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretaries Gary Locke and Tom Vilsack in Wattsburg, Pennsylvania. They will discuss the issue of rural broadband.

The White House released this statement from Barack Obama:
A healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America. Rural America is vast and diverse, and different communities face different challenges and opportunities. That’s why we’re going out to hear directly from the people of rural America about their needs and concerns and what my Administration can do to support them.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Where's Governor Richardson? Not Hiking Naked...

This is an official state vehicle with a sworn New Mexico Police officer standing next to it in a nice northeast heights neighborhood in Albuquerque. It's parked in front of Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish's home. On Saturday, she was entitled to the extra protection because, as it turns out, she was acting-Governor of New Mexico.

Like the Associated Press, who spot checked the whereabouts of a few state's governors, we decided to check where Governor Richardson was traveling. Our governor's office wasn't as forthcoming, which is disappointing following the whole mess last week with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who came up missing in action. Most governor's offices cooperated with the media inquiries and made it easy to find their governors. Our spot check was clearly not that easy.

After multiple calls, we confirmed the governor was out of state, on private business. But no one in the round house would tell us where he'd been.

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos sent us a pretty vague email this afternoon:
The Governor did not have any public events scheduled last weekend. I generally do not comment on what the Governor does during his personal time, other than the fact that he is always in contact with key staff members.
Today, Richardson was back at work touring in Las Cruces where he donated $30,000 in emergency state money to Jardin de los NiƱos a non profit that provides child care, education and other help to homeless and near-homeless families.

After we asked where the Governor's travels may take him next, and for how long, Gallegos sent us an email said he didn't understand what we were asking, but after thinking about it sent this news release announcing the Governor and First Lady Barbara Richardson were leaving tomorrow on vacation to Cape Cod.

The state's first family is scheduled to be out of town until next Friday, a sweet 11-day break over the 4th of July Holiday.

Richardson is familiar with the Cape after spending years attending school in the Boston area and in 1967, he pitched in the amateur Cape Cod Baseball League for the Cotuit Kettleers

On Friday, Governor Richardson will interrupt his vacation to receive a prestigious education award in San Diego, where the National Education Association will name him the Education Governor of the Year.

Photo Credit: MG Bralley

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Santa Feans In Shock as They Mourn 4 DWI Victims

Church bells ringing at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi greeted hundreds of New Mexicans on Sunday night as they gathered at Cathedral Park in Santa Fe. They are grieving the loss of four teens killed early Sunday morning in a car crash on the Old Las Vegas Highway.

"I'm devastated," said Adrian Martinez the brother of Julian Martinez who died at the scene. "My brother meant everything to me."

Crying, friends and family members of the victims, bowed their heads and offered their prayers which were led by Catholic Archdiocese priest Jerome Martinez.
Although their passing away from us was sudden and an unexpected tragedy for the families, we ask you, Lord, to take them and bring them to yourself so they can be joined in the source of all life.
Martinez also asked the crowd to offer forgiveness for suspected DWI driver Scott Owens, 27, who was driving the wrong way near mile marker 5.
We ask for forgiveness for those who made this possible by perhaps their recklessness. And we ask you give us the consolation of your love which is eternal and unconditional.
Owens has one previous DWI conviction in 2001.

The crowd milling around the park offered impromptu comments on their feeling and memories.

"It's a total shook," said Leonna Thomas, 17, with tears streaming from her eyes. She had just seen Kate Klein, a passenger who also died at the scene. "She just got back from piano camp. She was, she is an amazing person."

Thomas said she arrived at the scene moments after Owens Jeep Cherokee broadsided Avree Koffman's maroon Subaru. Thomas said it was eerily quiet, except the sound of a broken car horn blaring in the air. She's upset after seeing Owen's mug shot on broadcast on television news.

"He was smiling," said Thomas. "He's sick. He isn't even showing any remorse."

Candles, crosses and pictures of the victims were laid at the base of a statue in the park. Girls hugged each other and were comforted by boy schoolmates. Parents and teachers were talking softly to each other as they recalled the victim's short lives.

Koffman, 16, the teen driver remains in critical condition at UNM Hospital. Authorities say it appears she swerved to avoid the impact, but it was too late.

Friends of crash victim, Rose Simmons, 15, put up a pink cross and laid out gummi bears for her. 16-year olds Julian Martinez, Alyssa Trouw and Kate Klein were in Koffman's car and all died at the scene. We were told they were headed to El Dorado, New Mexico after midnight after leaving a drive-in restaurant in Santa Fe where they had gathered on Saturday night.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano says Owens was booked into jail after he was released from the hospital, but has not been questioned.

"He appeared to our deputies to be intoxicated, so we will let him sober up, before we talk to him." Solano said Owens will be interviewed on Monday morning.

State Department of Public Safety Spokesman Peter Owens said investigators with the Special Investigation's Unit are involved in the crash survey, but have not determined if Owens had been drinking before the accident or if any liquor containers were found in the debris at the crash scene.

Four Teens Dead in Fatal Wrong Way Accident.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office says alcohol is suspected in the deadly wrong-way crash that killed four teens and sent another to the hospital with life-threatening injuries just after midnight on the Old Las Vegas Highway near mile marker 5.

The impact has claimed four young lives.

The investigation revealed 27-year-old Scott Owens was in the wrong lane of travel prior to the collision. The four victims, one male and three females were passengers in a 1992 Maroon Subaru driven by a 16 year old female. This vehicle was traveling east when it collided with a 1992 Jeep Cherokee which was traveling west in the east bound lane.

Deputies tell 770 KKOB the Subaru driver attempted evasive action by swerving to the left and crossing the center line, but was struck broadside by the Jeep Cherokee which was attempting to get back in it’s lane of travel.

The 16 year old Subaru driver was airlifted to UNMH in Albuquerque and is listed in critical condition. The Jeep Cherokee Driver Scott Owens was transported to Christus St. Vincent’s Hospital with non-life threatening minor injuries.


Alcohol use is suspected by the driver of the Jeep Cherokee and a search warrant for a blood sample was obtained. Scott Owens has been arrested and is being charged with four counts of Homicide by Motor Vehicle, One Count of Great Bodily Harm by Motor Vehicle and additional charges are pending the outcome of Owen's blood alcohol tests. He has a prior DWI arrest in June of 2001.

The victims names have just been released.

16 year old Avree Koffman – Driver listed as Critical condition at UNMH
15 year old Rose Simmons – Deceased
16 year old Julian Martinez – Deceased
16 year old Alyssa Trouw – Deceased
16 year old Kate Klein - Deceased

Sheriff Greg Solano posted a message of condolence on this Facebook page after hearing about the tragedy:
This is very sad and my heartfelt condolences go out to the families of the teens who died in the crash.

Wrong Way DWI Accidents Have Claimed Multiple Lives In New Mexico

Nearly three years ago, five members of the Gonzales family were killed by five-time DWI offender Dana Pabst after he entered the highway going the wrong way.

Arissa Garcia, 15, was the November 12, 2006 crash's sole survivor. She suffered from a broken left arm, fractured hip, and bruises to her head and chest— and from the loss of her three siblings, mother and stepfather.

The Gonzaleses were returning to their family home in Las Vegas, NM from the Gaylord Sheppard Soccer Tournament at the Bernalillo Soccer Complex when they were killed.

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