Saturday, October 17, 2009

Senate leader concerned with session 'limitations'

New Mexico lawmakers caucus, but adjourn after less than two hours of floor debate.

On Saturday, after opening-day discussions on the floor of the New Mexico Senate, Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez (D-Valencia), said he's concerned with 'limitations on legislation' that the Gov. Bill Richardson spelled out in a proclamation convening the special session.

Lawmakers have gathered in Santa Fe and are settling in for a serious debate on how to curb the state's growing budget deficit and fix 2009 revenue shortfalls.

“The drop in expected state revenues has left the legislature with nothing but agonizing choices," Sanchez said. "There is no easy path to a sound budget if we are going to address the approximately $660 million needed for 2010 Fiscal Year and not cause even greater problems for the 2011 Fiscal Year.”

“The limitations on legislation ... have raised some serious concerns in the Senate about those limitations. We are reviewing those limitations to determine whether there they are so restrictive that the legislature will be able to adequately explore available options and fully carry out its constitutional duty to address the state’s budget issues. We are hoping that we can work with the Governor to find reasonable solutions for these serious fiscal issues.”

Trip Jennings at the New Mexico Independent covered the floor debate and wrote about it in his Saturday post:

Given the governor’s opposition to tax increases, why would the Committee on Committees even consider the tax bills, asked Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis.

In other words: “Can the committee of committees overrule the proclamation?” Harden asked Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

“My understanding is that we are bound by the constitution,” Sanchez answered, but, he added, “We can make a political decision if that is what we want to do,” instead of following the constitution.

Several lawmakers filed bills that would raise taxes or change the tax code minutes after Richardson’s proclamation was read out loud in the Senate. One would change how the state would collect the corporate income tax. Another would require the state to create a tax expenditure report.

Sanchez, who is an attorney, added that he understood that if the Legislature passed a law that wasn’t on the governor’s proclamation, “it would become subject to a lawsuit.”

Every member of the Senate has the right to file legislation and out of respect they deserve to go before the Committee on Committees, Sanchez said.

Senators plan to reconvene after 1pm on Sunday.

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Governor proposes1.5% cut in education spending

5pm - Update: Both the House and Senate have adjourned until Sunday afternoon -- only two hours after the governor delivered his proclamation. Members have returned to caucus meetings.

After being postponed until 2pm, the special session started even later on Saturday at 3pm, and as promised it was high drama on the Senate floor as lawmakers begin to consider ideas to whittle down the state"s $660 million dollar budget deficit in 2010 -- and fix the $200 million gap in 2009.

Senators debated what is germane and even considered calling an extraordinary session, so they could operate outside Governor Bill Richardson's proclamation for the session, which, for one, won't allow them to impose any new taxes to help raise money to offset the revenue shortfalls -- unless as Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez suggested they operate outside the state's constitution and igonore the governor's call.

Meanwhile, Richardson has backed off his call to spare education from any cuts.

Richardson spent the day laying out his plan to lawmakers and stressing his priorities of saving jobs and making sure education is not harmed by major cuts.

The governor said he while he's willing to cut education by 1.5% those cuts must include safeguards that classrooms, kids and teachers will not be affected.

It appears the governor is hoping to use federal stimulus money to prevent further cuts to education.

“I have made adjustments to my original budget proposal to reflect our new budget realities. But just like my original plan, this is a fiscally responsible package with minimum cuts to services and one that avoids layoffs and furloughs,” Richardson said. “I have made it very clear to legislators that any cuts to education must be minimal and not affect our classrooms, kids and teachers.”

“We are able to minimize education cuts and protect classroom spending as a result of our aggressive efforts in the past to keep cash reserves at 10 percent or higher,” Richardson said. The Governor’s $617 million plan relies partially on those rainy-day reserves to protect schools, while still keeping future cash reserves at a prudent 5.5 percent.

The governor also wants to divert available short-term bonding proceeds from future capital projects to reimburse general fund for existing capital expenditures, and deauthorize stalled capital outlay projects; canceling the governor’s projects as well as those of lawmakers.

If needed he said he'll delay general fund increases to retirement and Retiree Health Care Authority funds and sweep state account of unspent money.

Richardson also reiterated today that tax increases will not be considered during the special session, something he and legislative leaders had already agreed to. However, he said that he will consider a tax package in the upcoming regular session in January

“It would be irresponsible to rush into any revisions to the state’s tax code and any changes now would have little effect on the current budget year,” Richardson said. “I will consider revenue enhancements during the January session as long as they have gone through a thorough review between now and then and can be proven to have a lasting positive effect on the budget.”

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Lewis wants to continue journey as state treasurer

While legislators are in meeting at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, to fix the budget deficit, New Mexico State Treasurer James B. Lewis was in Albuquerque announcing his re-election bid for a second consecutive term and third overall.

Invoking President John F. Kennedy’s call to service, Lewis told supporters at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center that he believes it is his duty and responsibility to seek re election during 'turbulent times.'

“I must continue the journey of restoring honesty and integrity in the office of the Treasury,” Lewis said.

During his announcement speech Lewis outlined some of the initiatives he has undertaken the last four years, including implementing and reconciling the state’s news accounting system, called SHARE. After reviewing state investment policies, Lewis said he’s focused on focused on safety, liquidity and yield for state investments, and enhanced the investment policies in his office.

Prior to his current term, Lewis was the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Albuquerque and in other city, state and county administrative jobs, including serving as Chief of Staff to former Gov. Bruce King.

Lewis served in the office after being appointed by Gov. Toney Anaya in 1985. He subsequently won election and served as treasurer from 1987-1990.

A native New Mexican, Lewis, a U.S. Army veteran, holds undergraduate degrees in education and business administration and a Master’s degree in public administration.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Hearing Impaired Women Sues Sheriff's Office with help of ACLU

The ACLU of New Mexico filed suit against the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and several of its deputies on Thursday -- the same day they settled this lawsuit.

The ACLU claims sheriff’s deputies coerced Angelicka Serna, a hearing-impaired woman, to falsely accuse her fiancĂ©, Jose Herrera, of domestic abuse. The suit alleges that BCSO deputies violated the plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they threatened to take away her infant son if she didn’t confess that her boyfriend assaulted her.

The suit also alleges that the Defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act by failing to use a certified sign language interpreter when Serna requested one.

The incident occurred in November of 2008 as Serna, her fiancé, and their child attempted to leave an apartment where they had just been caught in the middle of an altercation involving other individuals.

BCSO deputies arrived outside as they were leaving and noticed the minor bruises and scrapes the couple sustained in the confusion of the fracas. When questioned by the deputies, Serna produced a card that explained she was hearing impaired and requested the presence of a qualified interpreter.

Ignoring her request, the deputies instead separated the couple and relied instead on Jose’s half-brother, Louis Herrera, who possesses only rudimentary sign language skills and is not a qualified interpreter.

“This incident is an excellent example of why we have laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “If the sheriff’s deputies had taken the time to procure a certified sign language interpreter as required by law when one was requested by Ms. Serna, the misunderstanding would not have led to the shocking violation of her rights and the wrongful arrest of Jose Herrera.”

The ACLU of New Mexico is suing BCSO on behalf of Angelicka Serna for damages and also demands that BCSO alter their regulations to be compliant with the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. The case was filed by ACLU-NM Staff Attorneys.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Senators promise to fight for the public option

by Peter St. Cyr

Two healthcare-insurance measures continue to move forward in the nation's capitol this week, and both U.S. Senators from New Mexico are pledging to keep the public option alive.

But, reform still faces an arduous trek through Capitol Hill and on to the president's desk.

"I'm going to, at every stage, try to make sure that a public option is included. It's a serious fight. It's hard to predict. I'd say right now it's about 50-50," Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said.

"I believe this is the best way to keep insurance honest, (and) bring down costs. It will also get more uninsured small business employees and families insured,” Udall said.

U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, who has sits on Senate Finance Committee, and has been on the 'gang of six' senators developing the America's Healthy Future Act, was on the winning side of a 14 to 9 vote on Tuesday.

The measure can now be merged with a bill approved earlier this year by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and debated on the Senate floor. As the only Democrat who serves on both the HELP and Finance Committees, Bingaman was in a unique position to influence both pieces of legislation.

“We have been talking about health insurance reform for decades. With this vote, we’re finally on a path to enacting it,” Bingaman said. “This bill reduces the growth in health care costs, which is important to all American families but particularly important to New Mexican families, who are expected to experience the highest growth in premiums in the nation if reform is not enacted.

The Act would prevent insurance companies from denying health insurance to Americans because they have pre-existing conditions.

"It also prevents insurance companies from capping coverage at an annual or lifetime level," Bingaman said. "And, if Americans like the coverage they have, they can keep it Bingaman said. In short, it is a very good bill for Americans and, in particular New Mexicans, who already have insurance.”

Bingaman is a strong supporter of the public option -- a health care plan available to all Americans receiving coverage in newly formed health insurance “exchanges” that focuses exclusively on providing care, not turning a profit. The Finance Committee bill does not contain a public option, but Bingaman is hopeful that the final bill sent to the president contains a public option or another plan that would provide an affordable health care plan for all Americans to choose from.

Udall emerges as a public option leader on the Senate Floor

On October 8th, Udall, along with 29 other senators, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). The senators expressed concern that without a competitive and robust public insurance option, health reform legislation will not produce nationwide access and ongoing cost containment.

On Wednesday, Udall told New Mexico radio reporters (via a teleconference call) that he's pleased two bills have emerged -- one from the Senate Finance Committee, the second from the Health Care Committee.

"This is another crucial step towards insuring access to quality affordable health care for everyone," Udall said.

"What I like about the bill is that we move dramatically down the road of insuring more Americans. I also like the fact that this is deficit neutral. It's about a $829 billion dollar bill. The projection of the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) is that it actually saves $81 billion down the road. So that's something that is obviously positive."

No predictions

Udall said it would be hard to predict where the public option will be inserted into the final measure.

In Washington there are three avenues still available to lawmakers to insert the public option. It could be inserted during the process of merging the two committees, during floor debate, or by the president and congressional leaders during a conference report.

"We had a small meeting with a group of senators, very privately with Sen. Harry Reid," Udall said. "We urged him to meld it in as he's developing a bill for the senate floor. I would like it to be the base bill that proceeds to the Senate floor. If that can't be done, I know that many of us feel that one of our opportunities is to add it to the senate floor. If not, we're going to be pushing to have it put in at the conference level. That will mean it will be in the final bill."

While Senate Majority Leader Reid is on record supporting the public option his primary job is to get 60 votes to get the bill off the senate floor. So as Reid canvases the vote, Udall is among a small group, of eight senators who have been actively supporting the public option on the floor.

Udall said Reid credits the group with keeping the public option alive.

"He's going to work with us and he's going to do what he can to move us forward," Udall said.

Meanwhile, the state's junior U.S. Senator says he'd like to see some improvements in the final measure.

"We could add more people in," Udall said. "The prediction is that about ten years down the line with the senate bill we will still have 17 million people who will be uninsured. So we could do a better job at chipping away at that."

Udall also said he's looking for ways to make sure the health care needs of rural areas are protected in the final bill.

"We talk rural, but we really have a division there. There's rural and there's frontier. And the frontier areas as the designation is called really don't have any health care at all. We need more primary care physicians. We need them to be in rural areas,' Udall said. "We need to supplement, and put the resources behind those loan repayment programs, so that we can get doctors and other health care personnel out in rural areas."

On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says nobody should expect a health care reform bill to pass the Senate anytime soon. McConnell insists whatever bill emerge onto the floor will be debated "extensively and at length."'

The Health insurance industry remains opposed to the public option

Udall said a report released by the insurance industry indicating insurance costs would increase with a bill's passage is one-sided.

"It actually proves why we need reform," Udall said. "Healthcare costs are absolutely out of control. We're talking about costs going up way past inflation. In the past we've had this dramatic increase of I think about 130%. In the future we're looking at those same kinds of increases unless something is done and that's what the Senate Finance bill and the bill out of the Health Committee are trying to get a hold of."

Udall also pushing for reform to Indian health

On Thursday he joined 15 Senate colleagues and introduced major legislation to improve health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives across the country – the Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act of 2009.

Udall said too many American Indians are still struggling to receive quality care.

"It will bring much needed reforms to the Indian health care system and will allow us to connect Indian health improvements to national reform," Udall said. "It will also reauthorize the Indian healthcare improvements act so Indian county can better predict a plan for its health care needs."

It includes a measure that Udall help develop to help address a growing crisis in Indian country: teen suicide.

"The rate of suicide among Native Americans and Alaskan Native populations is 70 percent higher than the general United State's population. New Mexico which has the 5th highest Native American population in the country, also has the seventh highest rate of suicide from youth from ages 10 to 24 years."

Originally posted on NMPolitics.Net

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ACLU settles lawsuit with Bernalillo County Sheriff's office

The lawsuit stems from searches deputies made during their massive manhunt for accused deputy killer Michael Paul Astorga.

In 2006, deputies surrounded Astorga’s father in law’s home with guns drawn and ordered family members to exit out of their home. After handcuffing each of them, the officers proceeded to search the residence.

But, The 10th Circuit Court ruled a families association with a suspected criminal is NOT sufficient probable cause to obtain a search warrant. The ACLU says the court’s decision and settlement sets clear limits for officials, who they say violated the constitution in their pursuit of Astorga.

The Tenth Circuit included this statement in their decision:
Although we are sympathetic to the urgency of the officers’ search for Astorga, we conclude that these actions violated the Fourth Amendment. Adhering to established Supreme Court precedent and the unanimous case law of this and other courts, we hold that a familial relationship is insufficiently particularized to justify invading an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
The controversy surrounding this issue erupted in March of 2006 as law enforcement officials began a massive manhunt for Michael Astorga, who was suspected of shooting and killing Sheriff’s Deputy James McGrane, Jr. during a routine traffic stop. Astorga’s father-in-law, Rick Poolaw and his daughter, Chara Poolaw immediately began helping law enforcement efforts to apprehend Astorga after BCSO notified them he was a murder suspect.

At the time, Astorga was married to another daughter of Rick and Cindy Poolaw. Fearing for their daughter’s safety, the Poolaws offered up information that they thought might lead the police to Astorga. However, despite their unwavering cooperation and Rick Poolaw’s honorable 25 year service record as a State Police Officer, BCSO officers obtained a search warrant for the Poolaw residence based solely upon the fact that the Poolaw daughter, then Astorga’s wife, was known to stay at her parents’ house from time to time.

On the evening of March 24th, 2006, officers surrounded the Poolaw residence with guns drawn and ordered Rick, Cindy, and other family members to exit their house. After handcuffing each of them, the officers proceeded to search the Poolaw property and residences. Officers also confiscated several items belonging to the family. Four days later, BCSO officers seized Chara outside of her workplace in front of her colleagues and clients and held her at gunpoint while they searched her car. Despite her cooperation with BCSO, the officers performed this search without a warrant and only on the grounds that she was an in-law of Astorga.

From a news release:
We and the Poolaws have always been sympathetic to BCSO officers for the death of one of their own,” said ACLU-NM Co-Legal Director Jane Gagne. We also have high regard for the great risks that law enforcement officers face every day in the line of duty. But our sympathy and our regard do not diminish our determination and our duty to honor and protect the Constitution.

Rick, Cindy, and Chara Poolaw were deeply hurt by BCSO's actions against them, especially since Rick Poolaw is a respected retired State Police Officer, and they had helped BCSO in the search for Astorga. The Poolaws are gratified that the New Mexico Federal District Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals have confirmed that the Fourth Amendment retains its vitality even in times of tragedy.

ACLU-NM Managing Attorney George Bach, along with Co-Legal Directors Jane Gagne and Phil Davis, filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Udall: Native Americans struggling to get affordable access to health care.

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, joined 15 Senate colleagues today in introducing major legislation to improve health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives across the country – the Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act of 2009.

The federal government has treaty obligations to provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives, but Udall noted Indian health care programs haven’t been updated in more than ten years and have been chronically underfunded for decades.

Udall said:
The United States has an obligation to provide quality, accessible health services for our country’s First Americans, but right now, the federal government isn’t living up to that responsibility,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This legislation would bring much-needed reforms to the Indian health care system to begin addressing the dramatic health disparities that face Native Americans, including skyrocketing diabetes rates, lack of preventive care, and an epidemic of teen suicide.

For Pete's Sake

Health care for the first Americans is a pledge the country made. Udall is correct. It's a pledge that must be honored.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Col. White selected to fill Berry's House Seat.

Col. Jim White with Wife Jacquie
Retired Air Force Colonel and former NMGOP State Treasurer Jim White is heading to Santa Fe as the interim representative for state House District 20, which was vacated on Monday by Albuquerque Mayor-elect Richard Berry.

Bernalillo County Commissioners selected White, on a 4 to 1 vote, after voting against a motion by Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins to defer the selection for 48 hours, so that the group could consider other qualified people living in the district. The motion died on a similar 4 to 1 vote.

While no other names were placed into nomination, there had been speculation earlier in the day that several other people living in the district had expressed interest in the position, including Democrat Josh Anderson, a representative with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union.

After Stebbins motion to defer was defeated, Stebbin asked Bernalillo County Manager Thaddeus Lucero and county attorneys to look review the selection process and offer ideas on improving it.

Democrat Commissioner Alan Armijo said he believes if there are multiple people under consideration, and little time to make the selection, the fairest thing to do is to put all the names in a hat and draw a name.

Commissioners will get their chance to make another appointment soon. Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, the former NM Secretary for Public Safety, and Republican nominee for congress in 2008's District 1 contest, was selected on Tuesday to replace Pete Dinelli as Albuqeurque Publis Safety Director in Berry's new administration on Dec. 1st.

White says he's inclined to run for the seat in 2010

White, 67, who ran for the house seat in 2006, and lost to Berry, said he’s looking forward to serving his new constituents and preparing for this weekend’s special session.

He also said that he’s inclined to run for the seat in next June’s primary election.

“We’ll see how the process goes, and what happens in the next six months, and we’ll take it from there, but right now I’m inclined to do that.”

Getting up to Speed

After his selection, White said he’ll focus on getting his credentials together before the start of Saturday’s special session in Santa Fe to balance the state’s soaring budget deficit.

White said he’ll be talking to legislators to catch up what the committees have done so far and what they’ve resolved. A lot of that has already taken place, and I don’t know about how long they have come.

Col. White said he’s prepared to make cuts across the board to balance the state budget.

“Given that all programs are of equal importance. The logical thing is to cut all of them equally. But we’re going to find out that some programs are may be more important than others. So we’ll have to find some way to cut some budget and not cut others, or cut them partially,” said White. “We’ll see how it goes. Certainly there will have to be some cuts.”

White told that he’s spent his military career and education have prepared him for his new temporary post.

“I was in the military for 27 years, and it was rewarding for me. I want to carry that type of service forward. When I left the military I thought I was a better person for it, I feel the same way about getting into the legislature,” said White. “I’ve got some skills and some education, I’ve got some background, and I’ve got some ethics and standards that I’ve lived by and I want to take those up to Santa Fe and contribute up there too.”

Earlier in the day House Republican Leader Rep. Tom Taylor (R-San Juan) told NMPolitics.Net that he’d meet with White all day on Friday.

“Basically we’ll spend the entire day with Col. White in a crash course, and utilize all the resources we have to bring them up to speed in 24 hours,” said Taylor. “Jim brings in excellent leadership skills that will continue to provide strong representation for the citizens of District 20.”

Taylor said he and his leadership are in discussions with Speaker Ben Lujan (D-Nambe) and how best to deal with situation.

“RJ’s (Berry) spot comes from appropriations. We’re working with the most efficient way to deal with that. It will still be a Republican that fills his spot,” said Taylor. “It will just be a re-arrangement. We’re discussing that right now and how best to accommodate this situation.”

House Republican Whip Keith Gardner (R-Chaves, Eddy, Lea & Roosevelt) welcomed White to the legislature in a statement released after his selection.

“The learning curve will be steep, but Jim is an Air Force retiree, a man with leadership skills, and we have no doubt that he’ll be able to step in and serve the citizens of District 20 very well,” said Gardner We look forward to working with him this week as he begins to take on this very important task.”

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ESPN reports Coach Locksley will be suspended

The head football coach at the University of New Mexico appears headed home for at least one game. ESPN is reporting that Micheal Locksley will be suspended for the Lobo game vs UNLV on October 24th

The action follows a human resource division investigation into a September 20th altercation between Locksley and wide receivers coach Jonathan JP Gerald. Gerald accused Locksley of battery and told Albuquerque Police Officers that he was punched in the face.

Lobos assistant head coach/defensive backs coach George Barlow will serve as the team's interim coach during Locksley's absence.

Gerald has left the team, but will be paid through February.

We'll get the final word around 3pm at a news conference.

If Locksley is suspended it won't have anything to do with legal claims made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by a former football administrative assistant. On Monday, the school had announced that Locksley has resolved "all legal claims" in that issue, although details were scarce in a statement issued by the university.

After the fight, athletic director Paul Krebs issued verbal and written reprimands to Locksley. A day later, university administrators decided to investigate whether Locksley's actions violated policies against campus violence.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

White may replace Berry in state legislature

This afternoon, less than a week after being elected Mayor of Albuquerque, two-term State Rep. Richard Berry (R-Bernalillo) resigned his District 20 house seat to focus on his transition to leading the state's largest city.

Now, Bernalillo County Commissioners, led by three Democrats and two Republicans, are scrambling to find a replacement for Berry by the start of Saturday’s special session.

Insiders gave us the word this afternoon that Republican Jim White (not Sheriff Darren White) has emerged as the leading GOP candidate for the position.White lost to Berry in the 2006 Republican primary after receiving retiring House Minority leader Tedd Hobbs endorsement. White, an Air Force retiree and former GOP State Treasurer, did not immediately return our phone calls.

The commissioner's next meeting is tomorrow at 5pm and the appointment discussion has already been added to the agenda.

In a news release announcing his resignation, Berry said he needs to focus full-time on his transition.

“The citizens of my district deserve a full-time legislator representing their needs in Santa Fe and the people of Albuquerque deserve a mayor-elect who is working full time to facilitate a smooth transition at City Hall.”

Republican County Commissioner Michael Brasher said he’s looking for someone who knows Berry’s district.

“They’ll need to have an understanding of the problems, needs and interests of the district,” said Brasher. “They will have to carefully go through the budget addressing the [state budget] shortfall issues. They’re going to have a spent a lot of time getting a briefing on the budget situation.”

Brasher anticipates the person selected will be a registered Republican.

“It’s a Republican district. It’s been represented by a Republican for years, so I expect we’ll chose a Republican to fill the position.”

Democratic Party of New Mexico’s Executive Director Josh Geise disagrees with the notion that the seat has to be filled by a Republican.

“Certainly there will be qualified Democrats interested in serving, and we would encourage the county commission to select one of those Democrats,” said Geise.

But, Geise told us that no Democrat, living in District 20, had approached the party for support by 4pm on Monday afternoon, but said interested individuals may be contacting county commissioners directly.

Democrat County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, who was just appointed to the board by Gov. Bill Richardson on May 12th to replace Deanna Archuleta, who accepted an appointment by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as Deputy Secretary for Water and Science, said that she doesn’t think the board decision will be partisan.

“I think our position has to be consider anyone who’s interested and make the best choice based on qualifications. I would like to give all the people interested in the seat consideration,” said Hart Stebbins. “I do understand the need to have someone represent District 20 during the special session in Santa Fe, but I would like to make sure it’s an open process.”

She said whoever is selected needs to have deep roots in the district and be prepared to jump right in.

House Speaker pledges to get appointee up to speed by Saturday

“I feel that the commission will make a wise decision,” said House Speaker Ben Lujan. “I would think the commission will be interviewing a lot of people and that they will appoint some who can handle the duties that needed during the upcoming special.”

Lujan said that he expects there will be between seven and ten bills to cover the budget shortfall and that he would get whomever is appointed to Berry’s seat as much information as possible ahead of this weekend’s session in Santa Fe.

Lujan seemed surprised to hear Berry had resigned ahead of this weekend’s meeting.

“I was hoping he was stay on. He didn’t have to resign,” said Lujan. “I understand it’s probably a lot of work. He was a good member of my Corporations and Finance Committee.”

Berry served on the interim Finance Authority Oversight Committee and was an interim member of the Retirement Systems Solvency Task Force. He also served on the Appropriations and Finance Committee and was a member of the Transportation and Public Works Committee. He also was a Rules and Order of Business member.

Berry will be sworn into office in Albuquerque on December 1st.

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Lobo's wide receivers coach reportedly resigns

Two weeks after 770KKOB broke the story about an "altercation" in the UNM football coaches office following a loss to conference rival Air Force, the UNM assistant football coach who filed a police report accusing head coach Mike Locksley of punching him in the face, is no longer with the team.

University officials have confirmed wide receivers coach Jonahthan "JB" Gerald has stepped down. Gerald was put on paid leave after the September 20 altercation with Locksley.

Gerald says in a police report Locksley punched him in the mouth during a heated coaches meeting in Albuquerque. He declined to press charges against Locksley.

ESPN reports UNM will announce the results of an internal investigation Tuesday. UNM won't confirm the report.

Campus police say punching someone is grounds for suspension or even termination.

UNM's Human Resource division has been investigating the altercation and is expected to make a determination in the matter this week.

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Mayor-elect Berry resigns ahead of special session

Mayor-elect Richard Berry resigned his seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives to concentrate his efforts on implementing a smooth transition at City Hall.

"It has been my great honor and privilege to represent my district in the legislature during these past two terms. With the transition of my administration just getting underway, it is imperative that I give it my full attention. The citizens of my district deserve a full-time legislator representing their needs in Santa Fe and the people of
Albuquerque deserve a mayor-elect who is working full time to facilitate a smooth transition at City Hall," said Berry.

The Bernalillo County Commission will select a new representative for the district to complete Berry's legislative term.

But, it's unclear whether or not the commission can select a replacement in time for this weekend's special session.

Our calls to Bernalillo County Republican Party Chairman Charlie Tipton and County Commissioner Michael Brasher were not immediately returned.

Meanwhile, Berry opened his transition office today and immediately appointed Sherman McCorkle to lead his transition team.

Berry said he expects to name additional transition team members later this week. Berry also announced today he has resigned from his seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The Bernalillo County Commission is expected to name a replacement until the next legislative election. Berry is a Republican from Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, and was serving in his second four-year term.

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Sen. Keller invesitgates UNM's brain drain

After reviewing the census demographic research presented to the Legislative Economic and Rural Development Committee on New Mexico’s “Brain Drain” Problem, Senator Keller has announced plans to craft legislation to help address deep structural challenges in New Mexico’s labor force.

“We can’t expect to build a rich diverse growing economy when 60% of our work force leaves the state. This is big reason why, we continue to, and may remain near the bottom of the nation when it comes to GDP and productivity. We invest in citizens’ education, we provide lottery scholarships for our Universities and our investments are walking right out of the state," said Keller.

"Like most New Mexican’s I thought most native born folks come back at some point, but this study shows that is a myth, its only 2%," said Keller. "I’m concerned about how our state competes regionally when 8 out 10 people who are born here moving to states nearby for higher paying jobs."

The UNM study conducted by Dr. Dely Alcantara found, among other things, that 60% of born New Mexican’s leave our state after schooling and only 2% return. 8 out 10 of the individuals who leave go to neighboring states. It also found the “Brain Drain” effect; those who have a higher degree are 4x more likely to leave than the average person born in New Mexico.

"The “brain drain” means there is a finite amount of good jobs that will come to our state because there simply isn’t enough talent. For economic development to stick we have to create ‘clusters’ where generations of New Mexicans are matched with good jobs in a particular industry. We’ve got craft our economic development policy to keep our top talent and bring those who’ve left home,” Senator Keller explained at the committee meeting.

He outlined several proposals that could be used to help support talent retention in our state:

  • Track the long term demand for particular jobs in our state (for example the number of engineers we need over the next 10 years) and supply of labor we are graduating at our universities (the number of engineer graduates) to better inform the business community and higher education curriculum.
  • Bolster our 40+ state industry incentives to include preferences for ‘returnees’ (born New Mexicans who have left) and native born New Mexicans, specific increased percentages of New Mexicans in management and ‘career path’ positions.

“This will link our business development initiatives to help stop the Brain Drain and prevent us from becoming a ‘low cost’ labor provider for the rest of the country,” Senator Keller noted.

  • Refocus our incentives programs toward supporting ‘economic clusters’ which include supply chain partners for key industries rather than only for specific industries.
  • Reinstate a State Planning Office to provide a long term strategic planning arm for our state government that can coordinate services, education and economic development efforts against changes in our state’s workforce demographics
  • Provide greater point preferences for New Mexico companies in government contracting to help create more jobs locally
  • Stream line business registration and licensing to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start a business is our state
  • Support access to the types of financing need to support local small business job creation like entrepreneur/venture capital, micro lending, job training funding, incubators and small business lending.
Last session, Senator Keller sponsored SB 175 to add “returnees” to the JTIP program which was adopted by the program this summer. He also sponsored SJM13 requiring the states bureau of economic research to track long term workforce supply and demand. Senator Keller shared he will be drafting legislation on these topics and will introduce them next session if the topics are in line with the Governor’s call, if not they will be rolled in the next 60 day.

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Leftovers, the new glamour food

Editor's Note: Now that I'm a paid contributor at this blog will feature some of the other items I've wanted to blog about. Of course, it will also feature government and politics news. And when time allows great audio podcasts and video or photo slide shows.

Put your money where your mouth is...

With the tough economy it appears the new "most" American meal is not hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken or spaghetti.

It's leftovers.

According to a study by the Food Marketing Institute, 58 percent of Americans are having leftovers for dinner on any given night. People are eating out less these days, while two-thirds of Americans are buying less fancy foods and 60% are buying store brands. At least home cooking is getting healthier -- according to 39% of the study's respondents. Another 41% claim to be very concerned about the nutritional value of what they eat. That means it's time to go organic. But, more conventional food outlets are dropping the organic brands because of pricing levels. Yikes.

U.S. workers are putting in nearly 44 hours of work every week. (They have it easy -- try making a living as a journalist and blogger). In addition to the 43.6 hours folks rack up on the job, about 36% of employees spend an average of 5 to 10 hours a week commuting according to a Gallup Survey. Another 8 percent of commuters reported spending two or more hours a day just getting to their workplace, all of which probably seems a whole lot longer on the way home for leftovers.

It also gives them a whole lot less time to shop for Christmas. The average $740 consumers predict they will spend on Christmas gifts this year is down from $801 recorded at this time a year ago, but higher than the $639 prediction Americans gave two months later in the economically troubled 2008 holiday season.

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