Friday, January 29, 2010

Maybe It Is, Maybe It Isn’t

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I was up in Santa Fe at the beginning of the month and stopped by the Senate chambers to assess possible camera locations for webcasting the 30-day session, which began January 19.

There, mounted on the front wall, were two of the remote-controlled video cameras. These cameras had been installed before last year’s session as a result of the year before, when the Senate approved live webcasting of their floor activities. Just days before the 2009, 60-day session, the Senate Committee on Committees voted to remove the cameras dashing the hopes of citizens of New Mexico from viewing their legislators in action.

State Senator Mark Boitano, left, R, Bernalillo County, has carried legislation to open the Senate to webcasting since, at least 2005.

In 2008, by way of a memorial, the Senate paved the way to webcast when it appropriated $75,000 to the broadcasting effort.

Remotely operated cameras and control equipment was purchased and installed in anticipation of the 60-day session.

The Senate Committee’s Committee blamed the economy for their decision not to use $30,000 of the $75,000 previously appropriated to the broadcasting effort according to the, posting, "Budget crunch delays session webcasting," whose link has since been removed .

Sen. Mark Boitano’s 2009 bill, SB 401 and resolution, SR 3 addressed webcasting. The issue has been addressed since passage back in 2005, of a different measure sponsored by him.

Near the end of the 2009 Legislature, during an evening session Senate Resolution 3, “Senate Live Audio and Video Web Streaming,” came to the floor, Sen. John Sapien, left, D, Sandoval County was prepared to introduce three amendments.

After a short but intense procedural wrangle there was an agreement to allow one stationary camera to be placed at the back of the chambers that overlooked nine, mostly balding, Senators and the President of the Senate, Denish’s seat.

The Senate Rules Committee was an easy choice for aiming the camera for webcasting. Four of the eight members of the Senate Committee’s Committee who voted to remove the installed cameras from the chamber also sit on the Senate Rules Committee. They were Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D, Valencia County, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R, Chaves, Curry, De Baca and Roosevelt Counties, President Pro Tem Timothy Jennings, D, Chaves, Eddy, Lincoln and Otero Counties, with Committee Chair Linda Lopez, D, Bernalillo County. The Rules Committee is the funnel for all Senate ethics bills.

On the House side, Representative Janice Arnold-Jones took her computer with a webcam to her committee meetings and set off a firestorm.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Part of the online response to live webcasting idea is to allow citizens to watch the legislators live and to e-mail their lawmakers directly to add to the debate.

My first thought was hopefully, that if the cameras were up there might have been some change of heart and some backroom deal, similar to last year’s changing course again.

However, nothing has changed, the cameras were up so the Legislative Council Services technicians could do some testing, according to the LSC Communications Director John Yeager. LSC is just making sure that they are ready, if there should be any action to broadcast. The cameras were uninstalled before Tuesday's opening.

My Take

The new social media advocates suggest that instant communications with lawmakers during floor debates might add positively to the legislative process. However, it is questionable and problematic, at best.

Law making should be a deliberative process and citizens who want to participate should be well prepared about the issues and have communicated their concerns well before the final debate.

There are several reasons why this is not such a good idea.

This is the New Mexico Independent's Reporter Matthew Reichbach, above, holding a small webcam during a Senate Judiciary meeting Friday Jan. 22, 2010. He was also "live blogging," giving a running commentary on what bill was being discussed and who was talking. People viewing often engage in an open forum that often times has little to do with the issue at hand. Live blogging may be useful to those watching, just not helpful to legislators making a decision at the moment.

In his 1995, book, "The Electronic Republic: Reshaping Democracy in the Information Age," Lawrence K. Grossman explored the use of the then burgeoning internet and contemplated its use to flatten the representative form of government and have citizens communicate directly with their legislators. He noted the increased use of ballot initiatives and pondered whether to allow citizens the ability to vote directly on every piece of legislation.

Grossman wrote of several factors to take into consideration:
“The distorting influence of money and other concerns,”
“The professionalization of politics,”
“The rise of Interest politics,”
“’Dumbing down’ the quality of information.”
He also predicted that rise of information, but did not perceive the decline in newspapers. He acknowledged the small number of people who controlled the vast majority of “news” media outlets.
I threw down a gauntlet during last year's debate over turning on the Senate controlled cameras. My challenge was that if the Senate did not video cast the floor activities adequately, á la C-SPAN, I would webcast their activities.

My blogging buddy Ched Mac Quigg, Diogenes' Six, above left, and I have pointed our camera at the Senate floor several times and attended the senate Judiciary Committee to allow the public an open glimpse.

We experienced some major technical difficulties with the internet, but believe we have overcome them. We upgraded our equipment and tested it and will start webcasting today.

We will be covering the Senate floor activities. Though we can’t promise wall-to-wall coverage we will do the best we can.

We can be found by linking to NM Senate Live.

By some stretch of irony, we will be covering the House Rules and Order of Business Committee, which is taking up the issue of webcasting House activities.

This is the committee which, last year was the scene of the battle over letting Rep. Arnold-Jones continue to webcast her assigned Committee hearings.

Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, above, seems to be no fan of transparency despite his rhetoric, he attempted to run rough shod over citizens who dare to video House activities this week, according to the New Mexico Independent's Larry Behrens, posting, "Webcam measure tabled in the House."

Forgetting his basic civics lesson on the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom… of the press…
The current House rules allow for videoing committee meetings with the permission of the chair.

Yet the First prohibits government from requiring the asking of citizens to watch, participate and to disseminate what they see and hear to their fellow citizens.

The commercial media don't ask, they're welcomed; no such thing as bad publicity.

I don't seek permission form government to exercise a Constitutional right.

If we get through that Constitutional test, then we will be back on the Senate side.

Watching the legislative process can be incredibly boring, Just ask KRQE's Anchor/Capitol Reporter Michael Herzenberg, sitting with the New Mexico Independent's Reporter Trip Jennings.

There still are some legislators, like Rep. Gail Chasey, D, Bernalillo County, who as a member of the House Rules Committee, told the hearing that she is afraid that images on webcasts will be used against law makers in negative campaign ads.

Chasey, left, was one of the House delegation sent to escort Governor Bill Richadson and his entourage, including his wife Barbara Richardson, and US Senator Jeff Bingaman, to the House chambers to give his state of the State address.

Chasey should not worry about webcasting under the control of the Legislative Council Services technicians; it's the average citizen or hired ad agency video crew of whom she needs to be wary.

The efforts of NM Senate Live are nothing more than a nudge to have both branches of the legislature broadcast their proceedings for the citizens of New Mexico to watch.

Capitol Report New Mexico dies again, or does it?

Another final issue of Capitol Report New Mexico was published just before the session. A Rio Grande Foundation grant funded the publication for just over a year. The Foundation chose to go another way.

Seeking future funding, Editor Harold Morgan, left, interviewing House Minority Leader Tom Taylor R McKinley County.

Though a niche product, specializing in the numbers of the State’s budgeting process, it has provided analytical viewpoints from well-regarded observers of the inner working of policy making. Regular contributors included: New Mexico State University History and Political Science Professor Dr. Jose Z. Garcia, who blogs, “La Politica: New Mexico! La Voz del Valle del Sur,“ University of New Mexico Department of Political Science Professor and Regents Lecturer Dr. Lonna Atkeson, President and Executive Director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute Richard L. Anklam, New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing, and several guest writers.

I provided the photography and proofreading (any typographical errors are a testament to my lack of skills as a copy editor).

CRNM has had a life as a slick magazine, a newsprint product and has a web presence. I predict we will continue reviving again when some more funding comes along.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Junior; But Then What’s In a Name?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Having apparently left the political stage, retired six-term U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, once again stepped into the spotlight putting the family name into political play.

The 77-year old introduced his 50-year old lawyer son, Peter Jr. who announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor of New Mexico.

With no public elected experience, Domenici Jr. spoke to a wide array of journalists, from television, to weekly and daily newspapers and their photographers, a radio reporter and a handful of bloggers.

There seemed to be more journalists present than at other Republican candidate announcements. Also in attendance were a small number of family members, friends and campaign staff.

The very small room was crowded beyond capacity overflowing into the hallway.

Beyond capacity may be an odd turn of a phrase. With the need for some distance between the podium and the line of television cameras there is a large void in the middle of the room. Spectators lined the walls creating very limited space.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Only a couple of years ago the state’s most experienced campaigner stood before a large crowd of supporters to announce his retirement for medical reasons.

Standing behind him was his bearded eldest son.

Now he sits behind his namesake. Despite what appears to be a halo, Junior is no Saint Pete.

Domenici joins four other Republicans who have thrown in their candidacy for the state’s top administrative job. State Representative Janice Arnold-Jones, left, Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez, whom I haven’t photographed, former GOP chairman Allen Weh, and advertising executive Doug Turner have already entered the race. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, right, is the only declared Democratic candidate.

My Take

It’s about the name – Domenici – a name that denotes power and dominance in New Mexico politics.

Both Parties are sure to make noise about the progeny trying to follow the father.

However, don’t let the irony escape notice of the possibility of a Domenici squaring off against Denish, née Daniels. The Lt. Governor’s father, a former State Representative Jack Daniels, was the first of six Democratic victims defeated by the senior Domenici when he was first elected to the Senate in 1972.

The Senator Domenici’s first foray into State level politics, after having been a City Commissioner and the ad-hoc Mayor of Albuquerque, by virtue of being the Commissions’ president, was his 1970 run for Governor. He beat Lt. Gov. Ely Francis in the GOP primary then face and lost to another man – Bruce King – who would head his own dynasty.

Truner is the son of William Turner, who was recently a member of the Mid Rio Grande Conservancy District.

New Mexico politics is resplendent with nepotism in direct lineage and through extended families. Other family names like: Anaya, Aragon, Block, Lujan, Martinez, Montoya, Runnels, and Sanchez, among others, have graced the halls of power. Domenici may as well be another one. Nepotism doesn’t have to be a bad thing and often isn’t. It does however, conjure thoughts of one lacking in ability and trading on the family name. Sometimes it’s true.

One of the more surprising sights was the presence of some of the heavy weights in the journalistic sphere; there was a real live public sighting of political blogger Joe Monahan. He is seldom seen at such events. Though he has been spotted as a regular at events involving the senior Domenici; it might be that his neighbor, one of the Domenici sister’s influences his attendance through one of her gracious invitation.

Monahan’s alligators’ seemed to be the insider prognosticators trying to kill off the competition with the weight of the heavy name.

Media executive, KOAT 7’s President/General Manager Mary Lynn Roper, was in the room.

I had to agree with Monahan about the size of the room and the timing, and the limited number of questions allowed of the press.

I’ll take it one step further; it was a ham-fisted attempt to manipulate the media.

Works for some, because the TV guys are limited to looking for some cutting sound bite. Domenici delivered a couple, especially when talking about State employees having to take furlough days, and suggested that the current administration and likely Democratic candidate should take a permanent furlough.

Cute, but it was only a throw way line without any actual substance on how he was going to fix the fiscal crisis. TV will eat that stuff all day. However it doesn’t add to the political discourse.

Monahan has worked a campaign or two and seemed to think this event was well handled for what Campaign Manager had to work with.

My read is you won’t see Domenici stepping up to too many inter-Party debates or joint appearances. His father mastered the dodge and dismissed his political opponents. The elder Domenici’s advice may not play so well.

I stood close to the Senator because he has been the subject of a multi decades long personal project. His son’s announcement is a sub-story in my documentation of the senior statesman. The Senator appeared anxious and to be praying, he whispered emphatically, “one question,” when KOAT’s Ilana Gold, below, asked a follow up question.

It was an indication that junior is, as he stated, “his own man.” It also indicates that his father’s instructions to him on how to handle the press went awry. Monahan got it right that it was no career changer when he wrote, “Pete Jr. plowed--and sometimes plodded through--a 15 minute speech.”

A byproduct of Monahan’s appearance was his request to pose senior and junior. Father and son included wife and mother Nancy. Photojournalistically, such a request to pose is a hot topic of debate with some suggesting that it is a manipulation of an event by the photographer. Of course one can ask what the difference is when covering a press conference where the subject of the press conference manipulates their event. Note: Journal photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis, left, did not join in the feeding frenzy.


I was so busy readying myself for the start of the 30-day session that I failed to post.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico tapped into my archives to select some portraits of current lawmakers for a video tribute at their 20th Annual legislative Dinner.

Top row: Reps. Thomas Garcia, Edward Sandoval, Sen. John Pinto, and Rep. Elias Barela.
Second row: Sens. Carlos R. Cisneros, Cynthia Nava, George Munoz, and Rep. Jim R. Trujillo
Third row: Rep. Roberto "Bobby" J. Gonzales, Sen. David Ulibarri, Rep. Nick Salazar, and Sen. Tim Eichenberg.
Fourth row: Sens. Lynda Lovejoy, Pete Campos, Richard Martinez, and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez.

Geusts at the reception included Governor Bill Richardson, left, who stayed only through the preliminary event and New Mexico State University's newly appointed President Barbara Couture, right.

Who should I bump into, but Monahan, above, talking with Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins. Two sightings in a week, makes talking about his reporting style of not showing up at events hard to prove.

Monahan got news about Denish coming out swinging at Domenici Jr.

Congressman Harry Teague, right, told the pre-dinner reception how he had met Denish, left, as a fifth grader in Hobbs, N.M. She was always telling her classmates’ to line up on the playground before returning to the schoolroom, gesturing with a backward sweeping motion saying, “behind me, behind me.” Even back then, Teague said, she was trying to lead, and he had been following her ever since.

Denish was the dinner's keynote speaker.

Two Governor Bruce King Awards were presented: the former governor's niece, Representative Rhonda King, above, Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Torrance Counties, accepted her recognition from her cousin, Attorney General Gary King, above right, in his father's name; Senator Howie Morales, Catron, Grant and Socorro Counties was also given an award by State Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales, below right.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Astorga Trial Update

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Anonymous, you’re still out there. You’ve asked a fair question:

Can you give us an update as to when Michael Astorga will go on trial? Thank you.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The Astorga trial is currently scheduled to begin the first week of May, according to Attorney Public Information Officer Davis Patrick of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office.

The trial will take place in the Bernalillo County District Courthouse, above, in downtown Albuquerque, on the southwest corner of Fourth Street and Lomas Boulevard. It will be before New Mexico State District Court Judge Neil Candelaria.

There are no further motions, on either side expected and discovery and jury selection questionnaires are being prepared, Davis said. Astorga is facing the death penalty.

Michael Paul Astorga is accused of shooting to death Bernalillo County Deputy Sheriff James McGrane Jr. on March 22, 2006, during a traffic stop in Tijeras.

I’ve reported on the arrest of Michael’s brother Matthew Astorga of rural Lansing, Kan., when he was charged and convicted of first-degree murder, felon in possession of a firearm and fleeing or alluding police. He is now serving 50 years mandatory prison. Matthew has been charged with additional counts of battery on an inmate and county corrections officer, making a criminal threat and damage to property in a jailhouse incident. At sentencing he spoke twice to his victim’s mother in Spanish that was not interpreted, according to Lansing This Week’s Staff Writer John Richmeir.

The Astorga brothers and a half brother, Anthony Lucero have been accused or convicted of the death of five men. Matthew Astorga and Lucero are in Kansas prisons.

Based on my reporting, an anonymous commenter questioning why Matthew Astorga’s activities were being reported in Albuquerque.

The anonymous commenter posted a second time, leaving her name. She tried to defend Astorga’s action as self-defense. She is a an anti-death penalty advocate who befriended the Astorga’s mother and has taken up the cause of the Astorga family.

Family and friends of Astorga and the victim took to commenting on blogs and attempted to use my site. I found that some of the comments appeared to be attempts to threaten and intimidate each other. I moderated the comments and did not post them.

I’ve never been face to face with any of the Astorgas or Lucero. However, in observing and reading facts in these cases, a pattern seems to have emerged, especially with regards to Matthew.

Although both Michael and Matthew were put on trial of the murder of Maldonado-Sigala only Matthew was convicted, Michael was acquitted.

In a prison interview with KOAT TV’s Action 7 News Anchor Doug Fernandez, Matthew stated he would do anything for his big brother Michael. It seems he took full blame for murder of Jose Maldonado-Sigala even though there was evidence that Michael was present.

The telling pattern was that Astorga’s claim of self-defense was preceded by some insult to him or his family that caused him to go to the home of the men who were killed, calling them out, engaging in an argument that escalated into a fight and Matthew then shot the victims.

Law enforcement, district attorneys, juries, and courts tend to see that as premeditated murder, not self-defense.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Let’s Get a Fact Straight

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The future is not all that bright at City Hall, things are darkening and though it may seem placid, it might only be a calm before the storm.

There is an ongoing debate about whether the new City Administration is bound by the economic conditions contained in the public employee labor contracts.

There is noise out there, the sounds of grumbling and chest thumping; the sounds of uninformed rhetoric of the masses who threaten to destroy any civil discussion.

Both sides are making noise.

Former Mayor Jim Baca has been making noise on his blog Only In New Mexico, about how:
Those fat contracts Marty Chavez gave out in hopes of getting support from the police and firemen's unions are really going to cause problems.
Baca wrote on his May 29, 2009 post during the recent mayoral campaign when talking about the largest city employee union giving then Mayor Martin Chávez their endorsement:
What surprises me is that while Marty has bent over backwards giving the Police and Fire Unions exhorbinant (sic) raises over the last seven years that AFSCME rolled over so easily after getting scraps.
Baca wrote April 24, 2009:
Its a miracle! As election season approaches Mayor Marty Chavez has found enough money in the budget to give non police and fire employees a raise this summer. Don't you just love miracles? Actually, I am happy they will get a raise but this manipulation is almost comical.
From his perspective as a former mayor, who was saddled by a huge economic mess left to him by the first Chávez administration, he has some understanding of the problem. Baca had only one term of Chávez' funny economic budgetary math magic and the national economic picture then, was not so bleak as it is now. He spent almost three years digging out of the financial mess.

Baca never considered the cops to be under control as he envisioned, and promised in his campaign rhetoric. He still rails about the police union.

During the 2009 mayoral race coverage, hosted by blogger Joe Monahan, right, with: Baca, State Legislators, Rep, Larry Larrañaga, R, Sen. Eric G. Griego, D, both from Bernalillo County, and former State Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim, at KANW 89.1 FM's Election Night broadcast, I attempted to say something nice about Baca’s willingness to talk to the police union, when he was trying to get their support for the quarter cent transportation tax.

Baca actually sat down with union leaders, which were then lead by Alex Marentes, left.

The union successfully opposed a quarter percent “Public Safety Tax” a couple of years before and Baca was very concerned that cops might also oppose the transportation tax. He never understood that the police officer’s weren’t opposed to a tax increase, just not as a “Public Safety Tax”; we didn’t want to be blamed for it. The police union's argument was simply that there are certain government functions, including public safety, which must always be funded and not by way of some special tax; we called it, “first, last and always.”

Baca still lashed out at the cops as being very problematic for mayors. He's right, for the wrong reasons.

Several city employee groups negotiated, what are being considered, lucrative multi-year contracts, especially the police and fire unions. It causes consternation for mayors' administrations and city councillors who would much rather not have to deal with the collective bargaining process altogether.

There are some, especially that cowardly “Anonymous,” writing on the backside or comment section of the Eye on Albuquerque blog, suggesting a strike by police and fire employees.
Bottom line Ray (Chief of Police Schultz) and Darren (Director of Public Safety White) screw with city contracts and we will walk.
So what’s wrong with this picture?

City of Albuquerque Code of Ordinances
Article 2: Labor - 
Management Relations
§ 3-2-18 Consistency With City Budget Ordinance.
Any contract between the city and an employee organization, which contains provisions that result in expenditures greater than the amount, appropriated for wages and benefits in an adopted city budget for the initial fiscal year of the contract or which contains a multi-year commitment shall require the review and approval by the City Council. In order for any contract to be approved by the City Council, the City Council must approve the economic components of the contract through an executive communication and adopt a resolution providing an appropriation or deappropriation or both to cover the cost of the contract. All such contracts shall contain re-opening language for economic items.
The Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association has a contract effective from July 1, 2008 until June 30, 2011. The contract states: This agreement’s compensation commitments for the second and third fiscal years shall be continent upon the approval of the City Council as set forth in Section 3-2-18 of the Labor Management Relations Ordinance.
The Albuquerque Area Fire Fighters Union has a contract effective from July 1, 2008 until June 30, 2011. The contract states:

1.3.6 The City and the Union agree to follow the Labor Management Relations Ordinance Section 3-2-18.

What this means is that if there are insufficient funds available to pay for contractual raises, then the City Council may alter the budget accordingly during the second and subsequent years of long-term contracts. The ordinance requires economic re-openers in multi year contracts.

My Take
During the tough economic times the City is facing, now projected by this administration as up to a $54 million shortfall, increasing expenditures through payrolls makes no sense.

As a former union president and leader, I was always aware that the vast majority of officers had a keen awareness of their place in the broader sense of their community and their specific role within the governmental structure.

Employees who have had their wages lag behind their contemporaries, in and out of public service, are reluctant to give up on promised increases.

However, employees who are treated in a fair manner, the same as every other city worker, taking equivalent hits to their pocketbooks, will go along with such reductions. It means the administration and all workers across the board have equal cuts.

Once an agreement is passed that every city worker will share in the pain equally, the workers will do their part to weather the storm.

This is APOA President Officer Joey Sigala, left, with Vice President Dan Champine, standing before a recent City Council meeting declaring union support for the leadership of police in the new administration of Mayor Richard “R.J.” Berry. Their support of the appointment of former Sheriff Darren White, upper, second from right, as a Deputy Administrative Officer position, more commonly referred to as Chief Public Safety Officer, and the continuation of Ray Schultz as chief of police was in stark contrast to the strong endorsement made by the union for former Mayor Chávez. The endorsement was fraught with internal union politics.

The re-openers will be tough, the negotiations hard fought, but there will have to be concession on both sides. The unions will take reduced increases or even frozen raises for the promise that when the economic picture improves those previously negotiated raises will be restored. That’s a promise the administration will have to keep. Saved employee pay during the fiscal crisis may not be viewed as ongoing after the recovery. The administration and council should not view such savings in the future as found money to be used for other purposes.

When the freeze is over, it must be over for everyone.