Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cato Gives Richardson a B. Very Strange.

Today a definitely conservative outfit, the Cato Institute, issued a new report about state governors. The title is, “Fiscal Policy Report on America’s Governors: 2010.” See Bill Richardson gets a B, which has to seem very strange to those of us who have watched the state’s rolling revenue/spending saga and disaster since 2007.
One comment makes me wonder all the more. “The tax credit disease is best illustrated by the explosion in film production incentives.”
The report says it grades “success at restraining taxes and spending since 2008.” Therein lies the explanation. That was about when New Mexico’s fiscal situation hit the fan. Since then we have watched the heroic efforts of the Legislative Finance Committee and the continued evasions of the administration.
Maybe, also, Cato is bound by its methodology. New Mexico’s film subsidy isn’t a tax credit. It’s a direct cash rebate, so perhaps it doesn’t count for Cato. Still, the B is weird.
Richardson’s horse sanctuary is not even the latest example. My new champ in the “Doesn’t Get it” category is the entire administration.
The LFC’s September newsletter, distributed yesterday, says,
“State Agencies Seek 23 Percent Increase.
In budget requests submitted September 1, state agencies seek a 23 percent increase in appropriations from the general fund, a $493 million jump. The largest increases were in the budget requests for the Human Services and Health departments, mostly to replace the federal Medicaid dollars. The federal match had been increased for the last two years but the enhanced rate is scheduled to expire.”
Cato’s Richardson evaluation follows:
“Bill Richardson, Democrat
“Legislature: Democratic
“Grade: B
“Governor Richardson has carried through on phased-in income and capital gains tax cuts he put in place seven years ago. The top income tax rate fell from 8.2 percent in 2003 to 4.9 percent in 2008. Richardson has supported other modest tax cuts, but they have not been pro-growth reforms like his income tax cuts. In 2009, for example, he signed into law energy tax credits and one-time income tax rebates. The governor has supported some tax increases. In 2010, he signed into law an increase in the gross receipts tax rate, a broadening of income and sales tax bases, and a cigarette tax increase. On spending, Richardson allowed the budget to balloon during the middle of the decade, but he has cut back recently. Between FY03 and FY09, the general fund budget increased 49 percent. However, Richardson's proposed spending for FY11 is down 11 percent from the peak in FY09.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Patricia Diaz Dennis: The Cowgirl (and Girl Scout) Way

Patricia Diaz Dennis: The Character of Our Community

She spoke today, September 28, 2010, to the annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was at the Albuquerque Hyatt.

Dennis chaired the Girl Scouts of USA from 2005 until 2008 and was a board member starting in 1999. As Girl Scout chair, she was responsible for a massive reorganization. The local result was folding the Santa Fe council into the Albuquerque council.

Professionally, she is an attorney who retired in 2008 as corporate counsel for AT&T in charge of a host of important matters including corporate litigation. Before joining AT&T Dennis, a Republican, was in government as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Communications Commission and as an assistant secretary of state. Her government appointments were by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Dennis was born in Santa Rita, NM, and has family in southern New Mexico and in Rio Rancho. She lives in San Antonio (Texas).

Dennis gave what might be called her Girl Scout leadership speech. She could have talked about immigration, which she told me we just have to fix, or Mexico or telecommunications. In addition to her insights, she was funny and articulate. My transcribed notes follow. Her topic for the day was to “talk about what we need to do for our communities.”

“Girl Scouts has always been about creating leaders.”

“It has become very clear to me” that the values in the Girl Scout law serve our country better than anything else. “The most important life lessons” can be boiled down to essentials. Cowboys and cowgirls know that there are “lines between right and wrong.” Dennis has adapted Girl Scout law to five points she calls “The Cowgirl Way.”

“Lasting change has to come from inside us.” Thus,

(1) “Lead your life with intentionality and purpose,” making purposeful decisions.

“We’re each the product of all the choices we’ve made” throughout our lives.

“Leaders… take control.”

“Genuine leadership requires character.” All great leaders have in common a set of principles like those in the Girl Scout law.

(2) Blazing your own trail. “It takes a great deal of courage” to remain true to your values when there is no one like you. Dennis said Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, “is the ultimate trail blazer for me.” Dennis listed a number of characteristics including Low’s focus.

“The barriers still exist today” that Dennis faced, just in different forms and degrees. She told several stories starting with getting her first attorney position in the early 1970s after being interviewed by all 34 lawyers at the firm. The two men hired with her were only interviewed by the five-lawyer hiring committee.

Then there were all sorts of complications starting in the mid-1970s with working and executing her commitment to breast feed her children.

(3) “Some things are never for sale.”

Girls today have it much tougher than Dennis did in the 1960s. “We cannot surrender our girls” to the pressures pushing them to become sexual objects.

“Girls and boys need safe places,” away from these pressures.

Letting people such as bosses know that these family issues are important to you is very liberating to men and women.

(4) Be tough but fair.

(5) Pay it forward. Short on time, Dennis didn’t elaborate. But she said afterward that the idea comes from the 2000 novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde and the movie with Kevin Spacey and others.

There is even a Pay It Forward Foundation ( with the mission “to educate and inspire students to realize that they can change the world, and provide them with opportunities to do so.”

One action within this sphere is to attack the fact that one in six Latina girls attempts suicide. Girl Scouts can help, Dennis said.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Something Else to Cut from State Government

Nanny-state stuff from the Public Regulation Commission. By “nanny state stuff” I mean the lectures on behavior from the PRC, the rest state government, or any government for that matter. A contender from the best ever advice award from government is this, “It is important to avoid parking in a Tow-Away Zone at all times.” The gem comes in a brochure from the PRC’s transportation division that was designed and printed by the PRC’s administrative services division.

Another value-laden item is a headline in the fall 2010 “Constituent Update” from Jason Marks, PRC commissioner. The headline, “Important Solar Project Dies a Lonely Death.” “A lonely death” for a project. Interesting concept. If Marks paid for this newsletter with his own money, I wouldn’t care.

But the PRC is supposed to regulate, not lecture.

Besides, PRC campaigns are paid for with public money, an approach that liberals say is to make PRC elections pure. I wonder what would be the reaction to a headline saying that the Public Service Company (or any utility) walked on water.

Eliminating such waste wouldn’t save much. But the state’s financial situation remains dire. Every little bit counts.

Friday, September 24, 2010

State Job Situation Better? Uhhh...

Once again the Department of Workforce Services injects optimism into their report of monthly job numbers. The new numbers, released yesterday, are for August. And once again, it’s difficult to take the optimism seriously. DWS economists please note that my problem is with the DWS communications staff and their bosses in the Governor’s office, not with you.

The DWS news release says, “There are signs of improvement from conditions earlier in the year.”

Well, sort of.

We do have job growth in three of the 13 job sectors. That’s up from two sectors with job growth, which has been the pattern for months and months. Some difference exists in the growing sectors. That’s the only good news I see.

Job gains appear in two basic industries, Leisure and Hospitality and Manufacturing. Education and Health Services once again added jobs.

Government lost 3,700 fewer jobs with state government down 4,300 and local government losing 1,400 over the August-to-August year. The feds added 2,000 over the year, which seems odd since the census jobs were supposed to start disappearing months ago.

Statewide, the total year-over-year job loss is 9,900, or 1.2%. Albuquerque, down 7,300 jobs, leads the pack. That’s 74% of the state total.

Las Cruces added 1,200 jobs over the year, a 1.8% increase. Seven of the 12 job groups increased employment during the year.

Santa Fe lost another 800, or 1.3%, of its wage jobs, year-over-year. Government broke even in Santa Fe for the year with the feds up 200 and state and local both down 100.

Wage employment in Farmington was down 1,300, or 2.7%, from August 2009 to August 2010.

Statewide, seven counties have more than ten percent unemployed. Mora and Luna lead, both with 14.8% unemployed. The other five are in the ten percent range.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

4,400 NM Jobs Gone in August

During August, New Mexico was not among the nation’s leaders in job loss by number or percentage, either over the year or from July. I guess that’s good news.

Even so, New Mexico’s loss of 4,400 jobs from July to August was enough to hit the “statistically significant” designation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released August state employment, labor force and unemployment figures today. Seasonally adjusted employment went from 802,600 in July to 798,200 in August.

New Mexico’s unemployment ticked up slightly and probably statistically insignificantly from 8.2% in June and July to 8.3% in August.

The state’s labor force about broken even over the year on a seasonally adjusted basis. The August 2010 labor force was 954, 700, down 400 over the year.

The number of unemployed people, officially unemployed, that is, was 78,300 in August 2010 and 72,700 in August 2009. The total number of unemployed, the 78,300 plus those who have just given up the whole employment scene is a larger number.

Diane Denish / Harold Morgan Interview, 8/26/10

Transcription of interview with Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and Harold Morgan, 7:00 AM, August 26, 2010. This conversation was summarized in Harold Morgan’s syndicated column that appears in ten newspapers around New Mexico.

The interview took place in Albuquerque at a coffee shop near Denish’s and Morgan’s home. (They are neighbors.) Gov. Bill Richardson was in Cuba the day of the interview on a “trade mission.”

Transcription done by Harold Morgan. The transcription leaves out a few verbal pauses (umm, er..) and summarizes two digressions. The photos of Lt. Gov. Denish are by Mark Bralley.

* * *

Denish enters and gives Morgan a file.

Harold Morgan: I brought a file, too. I brought a file, too.

Diane Denish: You did! Well I just brought my proposals in case you needed one.

HM: I brought a few with me. With questions, even.

Oren Shur (Denish campaign manager): Diane, Harold and I are both going to record this.


HM: That way if mine doesn’t work… It didn’t work yesterday in Las Vegas at Estella’s. We have backup.

HM: Well, good morning. Thank you.

DD: Good morning. How are you?

HM: Less awake than you are. Lots of ground. Limited time. So I’m going to jump in if I may. Be focused and all that.

HM: Topic one is something I’ve wondered about since 1994. That’s when you first ran for Lt. Gov.

DD: um hm.

HM: And that’s when Patsy Madrid declared for Lt. Gov. After Casey (Luna) pulled out. And beat you. You don’t have to answer this. But I’ve always wondered (about) the tone of the language in the Denish living room after that happened. I assume the language was a little blue.

DD: You know, actually we were just surprised. Because she had signed my petition. She didn’t call and tell me. But a lot of water under the bridge since then. She’s working hard for me this year.

HM: Well, business is business and that stuff.

DD: It was a good first race for me. She and I got 76% of the vote. And there were two men in the race. I was proud of my race that year.

HM: Well, first time out and all that.

DD Yeah, exactly. And she’s been around the block a few times.

HM You’ve stuck with it then. It dawned on me that you have been on the ballot every four years since then. In 1994, were you thinking about running for governor eventually?

DD: No. I was thinking that if I won, I’d see if I liked being elected. Because everything else I’d ever done had been pretty non-profit, business oriented. Everything had been. New Mexico First. Board of regents. All those things.

I knew I could make something of the job. The one thing I knew because (unintelligible) It was seemed like it was always (unintelligible) but never very meaningful or very purposeful. The one thing I knew about the job was that I thought it could be used in a better way.

HM: But then you ran and you got beat. You ran again. Why did you run again? And again?

DD: I had really not planned to run the third time. The second time I thought it was worth a run. I think that if you don’t run again after the first time, you saying you’re out of the game. I looked at other options

I was encouraged to run against Schiff in 1996 for Congress. Chose not to do that.

Ran in ’98. Got to run through a general election. That was interesting, to be on the ticket with somebody. Then I was a party chair. Really hadn’t planned to run. I thought I would hang in there and be the party chair and help the ticket.

I got a lot of encouragement for outside people who said this is the time to run.

(I) thought about it.

I knew I was going to change my business, one way or the other. I was going to do what we did, which was to (unintelligible) my clients off in order to reinvest.

Maybe change the focus a little bit in terms of technology. It seemed like a good transitional period. If I hadn’t won, then I could go do something with my business.

Or seek a new business, actually. That’s what I was going to do.

HM: You have talked about your business over the years. It has been a key of what they call these days, your narrative, the jargon. I’ve never known what your business was. I even went so far as to check the PRC and the corporations listing and I didn’t see anything that looked like your business.

DD: I was a sole proprietor. And I started out doing, well, the reason I started the business, Harold, is because I did a voter contact program for Bruce King in 1990 and ran a project. I thought the coming thing was voter contact. We didn’t do in 19990 what we do today. We didn’t have robocalls. So it was person to person.

So I started the business.

Then I got contacted by lots of other people who do lots of other things. Research. Small donor base building.

So I had non-profit clients, corporate clients. Mostly part time employees.

Once I got through the first two years. At the end I had three full time. At my highest time I had 26 part time employees. Every two weeks. People that needed extra work. Most of them were either moms that went to work after school, in the night, people that were trying to just get extra hours of work.

You’d be surprised how many people I run into today that say I used to work for you at the Target Group while I went to school.

HM: It’s called the Target Group.

DD: A lot of my clients are still in business. The non-profits. The for-profits.

HM: One of the things that you have gotten flack about is your relationship with the Governor and the broader administration. Well, first of all, to interject, I’m operating on the premise that the state is a mess, both economically and within the administration. It is that a fair premise?

DD: Well, I think that we’re in a global economic downturn. So financially, we’re very, very challenged. Comparatively to the rest of the country, we’re actually better off than many other(s). I don’t know what our ranking is.

I know Texas has a $1.3 billion deficit. Colorado has a $1.4 billion deficit. Arizona has a four point something billion dollar deficit.

I think that in terms of fiscally we’re not weathering the storm, but we

have to deal with a $150 million deficit.

HM: That’s the current number? The $150 (million)?

DD: The $150. Right. And we expected that to be this year. My current information is this year and next year, that we’ll have the budget year 2011 and 2012. We don’t know about 2013.

The other thing is, we’re in a transitional period. When the governor’s leaving, people start leaving.

I would tell you there are a lot of people in state government who are working their butts off to do their jobs. Social workers, correctional facility people, tax and revenue people. There are a lot of people working their tails off.

A lot of the things the Governor has been criticized for, the State Investment Council, almost all of things have been corrected in the last session. The criticisms of the third party administrators and all that. Those rules have been changed, either administratively or by legislation the governor signed. Those are going to be the rules for the next governor.

HM: In thinking about this it dawned on me…

DD: There are only three states in the country that are not in budget deficit situations. You know that I assume.

HM: That are not in budget deficit.

DD: There are only three of 50 states. Illinois is cratering. California is cratering. Arizona sold their public buildings and are leasing them back.

HM: They of course may get in big trouble on that 20 years down the road.

In thinking about this, though, it occurred to me that there are really two pieces of what might be called “the issue with the administration.” One is the policy part of it. Then one is what you might call the culture.

It dawned on me that they are really quite separate. On the policy side, do you have any real significant or even middle range significant issues with what the administration has done the last eight years?

DD: On the policy side… That’s a pretty broad question.

HM: Well, yeah. That’s why I asked “significant.”

DD: I think it’s more on how I would operate with the legislature. I would operate differently with the legislature a little bit. Be a little more collaborative with the Senate and the House. The House seems to be fine. The Senate needed a lot of work in terms of relationship building.

I’m trying to think if there’s something… In the short term right now, I’ve been pushing for the administrative practices act. The things that will make from a business standpoint, predictability, processes available to business.

The Governor, that wasn’t one of his priorities at all. I would have operated differently from that standpoint. I think business, whether you’re regulated strictly, or not regulated at all or just considering that business deserves predictability, timelines, a predictable process. We’ve been working for two years and a half, almost three years on that administrative practices act. Now it’s finally getting a solid hearing.

Those are things I would have done differently.

(Digression to consider schedule)

DD: I have a totally different style than the Governor. The other thing I just have to say is, I believe that governing, if you do a good job being a governor, your legacy follows you. You don’t have to follow it out in any one area.

As Lt. Gov., I have some key areas and I’ve had success. I couldn’t be prouder of anything than that microlending program. I travel around the state. I meet hundreds of people who would have never had access to a $500 or a $1,000 loan if it hadn’t been for ACCION, WESST (Corp.) the loan development fund, the microlender who benefited from that one little tweak in the law.

Don Kidd was the crafter of the SBIC. At first he didn’t want to do it. Now he’s the biggest user and the biggest proponent. I asked him if he’d give me a statement about it. He said, yes, I’d tell them you were a lot smart than I was.

There’s the policy side. Then there’s the stylistic side. I’m just different than the Governor. Everyone will tell you that.

HM: I know that quite well. I‘m partly kidding here, but I’m just idly curious about a specific item. Within your thinking about economic development, do you have any trips to Cuba on the agenda?

DD: Not in the first four years. I don’t smoke cigars.

HM: I forgot by the way, I should have said, “Good morning, Governor.”

DD: Yes, exactly. You saw my security guard Herb Denish out there with me. He gets a dollar a year, or two dollars.

HM: Yes, I did. Coming to this, the differences. Coming back at it in another way. You of course are very much an establishment person in New Mexico. Second generation establishment person By becoming governor, you would inherit the mantle of leading the establishment. Some would argue that the establishment got us in the mess.

We might disagree about degree of mess. We could spend a lot of time on other states and their money. We’re not going to do that.

But how would you respond to that notion? The sort of contra notion is, “Throw the establishment out.” How do you respond to that notion?

DD: I think people who want someone who will talk straight to them. You made an important point here. I’m a second generation New Mexican. And I have a stake in the game here. Very different from my opponent and from the governor. And I have a third generation of New Mexicans and a fourth generation of New Mexicans following behind me that live in our neighborhood.

I think what people want is, they want somebody who is thoughtful about our future, who is thinking about beyond their own legacy about what’s good for New Mexico, who they believe is on their side because they also know it’s important to us, it’s

important to you, it’s important to me.

And it’s not for personal gain. I think those are the things that people are looking for. They have to believe, they want to know that I understand what its like to own a business and make a payroll, what it was like to be a single mom, what it was like to raise three children.

What it was like to put my dad in a full care living facility when he had Alzheimer’s.

People want to know you have lived their lives in a way. And that you care about where they live. They don’t want somebody that’s off to do their own thing.

People ask me if I’m going to sell our house in our neighborhood. I say absolutely not. Being governor is a temporary job. I’m going to go back to my neighborhood.

And I haven’t been on the government payroll all my professional life like my opponent has. Every single day of her professional life, CYFD for a short time and the DA’s office for twenty… whatever.

HM: And (the Governor) has been on the public payroll almost all of his adult life.

DD: Isn’t that a funny similarity between the two of them.

HM: And that’s interesting, and that gets to cultural things. More culture. New Mexico, as is often said, is a small population state. Lots of folks know one another. Key folks in New Mexico grew up Hobbs and went to high school together and have ended up running, chairing significant pieces of state government. Names aren’t germane here. That’s not the point.

DD: Right.

HM: I would argue that the specific (department) I’m thinking of is in a huge mess. How would go to someone who has been an acquaintance if not maybe quite a friend for forty years plus and say you’re not going to be part of my administration because there was a problem. How do you do that?

DD: You know what, I don’t think you separate anybody out, even your friends. I think you say, I’m the new Governor. What I expect is people to respectfully give me their resignations. Tell me if they’d like to serve or not. And then make my choices about what I think needs to be done.

All of that will be done in the context of smart reorganization. Looking at our proposal for efficiency and jobs.

Making sure we’re designing a cabinet that works in the time that we’re in.

All my friends know that. People that I know in government that are new friends, old friends, long-time friends.

You know half of the people in this state are not people who grew up here. There’s lots and lots of valuable expertise available to us now, especially in this climate, where people are maybe even job hunting. They have lots of valuable educational, as well as worldly expertise. I think new governors have the opportunity to gather that around and make new recommendations.

I would submit to you that people that are on all these boards and commissions that have worked very, very hard, eight years is a long time for them. That may be their level of service. Long time friendships will endure if they’re friendships, whether you put them on a board or commission or not.

That’s what I know about New Mexico.

People I know that are my fifty-year friends are not going to not be my friends because I don’t name them to a board or commission. They’re also not going to be my enemy. They’re going to want to continue to be my friend. Because at the end of the day after you’re governor, that’s what endures.

(Discussion of follow-up interview)

DD: Let me just say about… I have a rooted upbringing in New Mexico and in Hobbs. My longest time friends are from various communities, from the university, all around. I’m not going to throw them under the bus. They’re not going to throw me under the bus. At the end of the day, we’re still going to be friends. Do we argue? Yep. Do we disagree? Yep.

HM: Yep.

DD: I’m not trading them in for any Governor’s license plate. They’re not going to trade me in for any board or commission appointment.

HM: Thank you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Denish Not New Mexico First "Founder"

The Albuquerque Journal’s profile this morning of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish listed her as “founder” of New Mexico First, the public policy group. This is an error. At best Denish was co-founder of the group with William G. “Bing” Grady, then president of Sunwest Bank of Albuquerque, formerly Albuquerque National Bank. (Photo of William G. Grady by Mark Bralley.)

Even “co-founder” credit may be an overstatement. Grady and Denish led a task force that put together New Mexico First. To give Grady and Denish “founder” credit leaves out the task force, several of whom played huge roles in formulating what became New Mexico First. My role, stemming from being the communications person at Sunwest Bank, was to provide staff support for Grady.

As I remember, the task force grew from a 1986 meeting in Las Cruces at the old Holiday Inn between Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, inn-owner Buddy Ritter and maybe one of two others. On the task force,Grady represented Domenici and Denish represented Bingaman. They were charged with doing something to create a broad public forum in New Mexico.

For what it’s worth, New Mexico First ( says Domenici and Bingaman were the co-founders.

A number of groups had been exploring the idea for broad thinking about the future of the state. The task force pulled the groups together. Some felt usurped by the senators. That was too bad.

Message to Albuquerque Downtown Revitalistas

By Vic Bruno

Government-driven downtown revitalization in Albuquerque has been a failure. Forty years ago, leaders envisioned a future that included a hotel and entertainment complex built around conventions, local events, and gleaming high-rise office buildings. It hasn’t happened on a scale that makes any sense. It has cost more than the meager results have produced and there is nothing to suggest that more of the same is going to make a difference.

When federal urban renewal money came here in the late 1960’s, there was an opportunity to build a hotel-convention-entertainment complex just north of Old Town at Rio Grande and I-40. But, instead of drawing a comprehensive picture of what a vibrant and functioning Albuquerque should look like, one where the puzzle pieces fit together nicely and could be added when timing and funding and other resources would allow it, the visionaries have been trying to fit pieces of puzzles from different boxes together over all these years since.

Putting a jail in the middle of downtown revitalization (and blocks away from the convention center) made no sense, but that is what government planning brought us.

No one knows or will reveal (I’ve asked) what all this has cost over forty plus years. But considering all the subsidies, parking garages and other dysfunctional buildings (jail, city hall, county courthouse, civic plaza, convention center, police headquarters), the cost cannot have matched up to the reward. And can anyone remember when the debt on any of these projects has ever been paid off?

The only thing we ever hear from the Revitalistas is that the reason this stuff never works is because they have just never spent enough (taxpayer) money to do it right (a familiar tune in New Mexico… pay teachers more and we’ll get better results, you know the drill). What they are really saying is they want more money to buy more puzzle boxes in hopes they can somehow find a match with the unfinished puzzle mess they’ve had on the table all these years.

Revitalistas have been so busy building on a model of the past that they haven’t noticed that the world has changed around them (just like in the school system). I’m sure for some, it is comforting to assume that the way we’ve done things for the past hundred years or so will carry forward to the future. I also suppose there is nostalgia in a vision that says we need places to congregate like event centers and the ability to ride a train to get there. Nostalgia is expensive and it dies hard.

But this is 2010 not 1910! Younger generations are linked in to the internet for just about everything. They communicate and touch each other that way and whether older folks like it or not, that is the way of the future. And that way has little if any need for event center kinds of structures or trains or a whole lot of other stuff (like traditional classrooms) that has been the focus of the old industrial production model that grew this country into a prosperous place but no longer exists.

Our future prosperity is tied to the Internet which includes an expanded broadband network and faster data transfer speeds. Conventions will become a thing of the past because of video conferencing, distance learning, Facebook, and a whole host of options for information exchange and networking. Events are being beamed to devices as small as cell phones today from everywhere. Print media is being replaced by electronic media. The world has changed.

Downtown shouldn’t be left to rot, but neither should these grand schemes continue at taxpayer expense. We’ve come a long way from the days where our largest banks were locally owned and located downtown. Remember the Big 8 accounting firms and all the big law firms? Downtown office building vacancy is always the highest in the city of any submarket. There is a reason for it. It’s likely the same reason why there is not a Sears, JC Penney’s or McDonalds located downtown. Spending more public money will not change it. It hasn’t in forty years. It won’t in forty more.

To the extent that government policies (as opposed to the market) guide things, they should conform to the structural changes in our workforce and resulting economic conditions and a cultural change that is well under way in how we congregate. An arena with no anchor and a massive new convention space in a declining market are no way to spend taxpayer money.

Vic Bruno has been a commercial real estate broker and consultant in Albuquerque for 38 years. He is a member of the board of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Nature Conservancy Scores Millions from Richardson

Today’s newspaper story and yesterday’s news release from Gov. Bill Richardson say the governor will spend $2.8 million of federal stimulus money (from something called the Government Services Fund) to buy the 12,142-acre Ortiz Mountain Ranch from The Nature Conservancy and a private party and use the parcel for a wild horse sanctuary. The first reaction is that The Nature Conservancy saw the governor coming because it got 11,500 acres of the ranch via a bequest in a will. The release didn’t specify the Conservancy’s take. Well over $2 million is a reasonable guess. Nice.

A second question from this city boy is whether New Mexico has any wild horses. Apparently we do, Google indicates. How many is an unanswered question. See below.

The third matter is that this deal will likely add to state employment and require additional capital spending to get the facilities, including a 5,000-square-foot ranch house, up to speed. In other words, the governor is again expanding state government. He still doesn’t get it.

Google gets one to a New Mexico Independent article from August 26 that says “$100,000 will be used to manage wild horses on the Jicarilla Apache Nation,” which has as many as 600 wild horses. I have never understood the meaning of “as many as” when stating a number. But that’s just me.

There is a New Mexico Mustang and Burro Association (, a chapter of the American Mustang and Burro Association.

It says there are “33,000 horses in captivity,” though no location is given and no source of the data is provided.

An article is posted with the title of,

The Power of the Compassionate Heart: Horses as Spiritual Teachers and Healers.” Good ole New Mexico enchantment.

There is also a Wild Horse Observers Association with a website,, that was last updated on March 3, 2009.

For economic impact, the news release from the governor’s office throws out some numbers that appear to come from The clever thing in the release is use of numbers covering much more than this particular project.

One claim is that “active outdoor recreation,” the term of art here, “supports” 47,000 jobs in New Mexico. In the many job studies I’ve seen over the years, I don’t remember the word “supports.” I have no idea that means. The usual statement is that X people are directly employed and Y other jobs are created.

The report used multipliers (“ripple effect”) from the IMPLAN model. The IMPLAN input/output model is a commonly used economic tool.

These jobs come from “simple, healthy outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, camping, or wildlife.” Note that none of these “simple, healthy outdoor activities” have anything to do with horses. The report claims that 23%, or 322,662, New Mexicans over 16 are involved in bicycling, on or off the road. Not that I am one to argue with IMPLAN, the figure simply is implausible.

I could go on, but other things beckon. The state may indeed buy this land. But spending more money on it should not happen. Think of kids and roads.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pepper Conference Special Report, Touring the Fields

Special correspondent Susan Bennett continues her report from the International Pepper Conference.

A lovely day yesterday in the chile fields...first the research fields of the NM State University agriculture dept. ...and the chile pepper institute...wonderful colors, sizes and shapes of chiles...including the bhut jolokia, the hottest one in the world, originating from interesting arboretum, other experimental fields. People examining every row and type.

Then to the university research fields, with more chile fields, pecan trees, various types harvesting machines, hoop houses (PVC, wood and woven plastic screening that make simple greenhouses...they grow cow peas (black eyed peas)) in them in the heat of the summer...using the plants for animal feed, and cooler crops like lettuce and spinach in the winter, heating them in winter with 50 gallon steel drums painted black. These green houses are part of their extension education program for other areas of the state, to help growers extend the growing season.

Then fresh chile roasting and tasting, and green chile cheese burgers, grilled under the pecan trees...amazing...and wonderful...and more research project posters of young students from the ASSURED program, which has had a 9 year grant to work with children of migrant workers to teach them about agricultural science at NMSU, have them do research projects, and many go on to study other things (providing mentoring and education they likely would not have had before).

Met folks from even more countries during the day's events...Serbia, Kazakhstan (I believe) via Jordan, Columbia, folks from more areas of Mexico...and of course met more folks from all over the US...

Then the attendees divided into three tours, one to Hatch and to visit growers; on to red chile processing places (the new crop is not yet in, for another 2 weeks) and the "green" tour to Deming, where they are in high harvesting and processing season.

Toured Border Food, the biggest green chile processor in the US. Had to follow FDA regulations, just like the workers, and no open toed shoes, no jewelry, wore hair nets (even the guys, plus beard nets as needed) and helmets and used ear plugs. Washed hands as we entered...many of us started coughing almost immediately from the chile in the air...and were given masks to wear.

Outside there were large plastic bins of chile everywhere; fork lifts everywhere, moving chiles to the initial processing areas, with fast moving ramps to load the fresh green into big steamers, to remove skin, then to other parts of the process and into the plant for the workers to sort, package, etc...amazing and so many chiles it was mind boggling...

After "recovery" from the delicious smelling chile fumes, we got back on the bus, and were off to visit a grower who uses the drip irrigation system, which is more cost effective, efficient, cleaner and using less water than old irrigation techniques...beautiful chile and other crops there...then to another grower, a big family business, who sells and roasts chiles on premises, sells local onions and all kinds of melons; and they treated us to mixed melon salad and green chile stew tasting under the pecans, with seating on hay bales...wonderful!...and the chile stew was mostly chiles...made by the proprietor's wife, four varieties...all different flavor fave was the San Isidro hot, which was a bit sweet as well...

Then, back on the bus to Las Cruces, where our animated host gave out stuffed red chile toys, and DVD's of chile recipes, etc and had us laughing all the way back...even past the giant metal roadrunner next to the highway west of town. An indoor evening barbeque dinner and NM wine, discussion, talk with some NMSU professors, a seed seller who moved with his wife from England to the Midwest.

All in a all, a memorable conference...good fun, friendly and interesting folks from all over, great hospitality from NMSU AG Dept and Chile Institute, growers, processors, good food, and very interesting info on various aspect of the incredible world wide varieties of chile, and sweet peppers, and the challenges of pepper agriculture...and for me, the beauty of the chile fields that drew me here in the first place, still dazzles!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tax Credit Ends. Sales Plunge. What a Surprise.

I can hear the conversation now.

Barack: Larry, we need to do something now get some homes sold. Maybe some kind of tax deal on the down payment.

Larry: But Barack, remember that any short-term deal that gets people who would buy anyway to buy faster has a zero net effect.

Barack: People are unhappy. Our government dedicated to making them happy.

Larry: Well, OK. How about we rebate $8,000 of the down payment for first-time buyers. Just remember that says that the “Cash for Clunkers cost taxpayers $24,000 per vehicle sold.”

Barack: No big deal. Let it be written. After all, who was it that said, “’Deficits don’t matter.’ Dick Cheney?”

So it came to pass in metro Albuquerque. Closed sales increased from 380 in February to 634 in March. The first-time buyer rebate ended April 30. With 731 sales closed during the month, May showed the highest sales-closed figure of 2010 to date. Sales dropped slightly in June. Then sales plunged. The peak summer selling season closed at the end of August with the number of monthly sales closed remaining above 500 for single family detached homes during July and August. The sale of 511 homes closed during August. That was a 15% drop from August 2009.

Sales may remain at the 500-level for a month or two until its gets cold enough to discourage people from driving around looking at homes.

That’s because pending sales during one month are an indicator of the number of closed sales during the next month or so.

The number of pending sales of single family detached homes was 768 during August, the high for the year. Pending sales have now shown three consecutive months of growth. Pending sales were 678 during May.

Or sales may not remain around 500. Today’s Wall Street Journal headline says it. “Bank’s Plans for Foreclosed Homes Will Drive Market.” While Arizona has far, far more foreclosed homes that Albuquerque, including some that banks haven’t gotten around to foreclosing for years after the owner walked, Albuquerque has its share, as any reader of the Journal’s legal ads knows.

The median sales price for single-family detached homes remained above $180,000 during the three summer months. The peak median sales price for the year, so far, was $186,000 during July. The median sales price was $182,500 was $182,500 during August.

The highest average sales price of 2010 has been the $230,213 achieved during July. For August, the average sales price was $221,379, which was 4.4% above August 2009.

Metro Albuquerque had 5,759 listed for sale during August, down slightly from July. Since March, the monthly listing inventory has been above 5,000.

International Pepper Conference: Special Report

True to its name, the 20th International Pepper Conference, now underway in Las Cruces, has drawn people from around the world. Special correspondent Susan Bennett, who is also my wife, brings us this report. -Harold Morgan

The conference is not just chile's, but other peppers...(bell, eg...) but mostly chile, as they spell it in New Mexico, (or chili, as some from other places spell it in some of the presentations.)

Very interesting conference, even for the layperson...about 150 or so attendees; about 35 from other countries...including Israel, Peru, Hungary, Brazil, about nine from various regions of Korea, Thailand, Canada, Mexico, some from India and Bangladesh that live in the US.

I have heard presenters from NMSU, Hungary, India, Thailand, the Netherlands or perhaps Germany.

Lowell Catlett, from NMSU gave a very interesting, and humorous, keynote this morning. He talked of the fact that in his father's generation, they were still working helping to ensure food, shelter and safety for their families, and these newer pursuits, (like boutique wineries, special chile varieties, etc) being in the area of "dream space"...quite an impelling description of where we are today (though of course many in the world still struggle with the basics).

Lots of friendly conversation with attendees and NMSU staff. I've talked to researchers from all over the country that work for a seed company and meet at these conferences; local chile processors; Mexican chile growers; local maker of "Louisiana Hot Sauce", made here with local and Mexican chiles; an Israeli engineer collaborating with US person on a chile harvester. (no perfect machines, though for decades folks have been trying to develop them...machine pickers need to deal with various issues; not bruising chiles, removing or not removing stems; picking drying red chiles that are harder to pull from vines, but can be "damaged" as they are not sold whole; various shapes of chiles to be picked; some plants can't be harvested all at once...some have to be hand harvested...

Others here are grad students, who had their projects presented on posters, or presented to the attendees.

Presentations were on chile varieties grown in various parts of the world; disease resistance; genetics of various varieties; genetic research, breeding and genetic engineering, for disease resistance, yield, etc etc...and I think for conservation...(though it seems there are not a lot of genetically modified chiles being planted yet; "chili" production in Thailand used for their very hot daily diet; competition from China in eastern chile growing countries; chilies grown at different elevations; nitrogen supplements; saline watering affects from using ground water; use of chile for coloring or flavor in foods (oleoresins) : to color tomato soup, corn chips, fired chicken, etc.

Chile in equatorial regions in South America are perennials with some growing as high as 30 feet tall.

Research techniques can be simple repetitive physical productions processes, involving watering techniques, exposure to leaf hoppers spreading curly top virus, etc...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chile Excellence and Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU Hard to Find

You can’t call the Marketing and Development Division of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. That’s because on department’s the contact-us list, only the area code and the first three digits of the director’s phone number show. As of this writing, the number is 575-646- ????. Take a look at

Department Secretary Dr. I. Miley Gonzalez has been on Bill Richardson’s “trade missions” to Cuba. I don’t know if there is any causation between Dr. Gonzales’ travel and the missing number, but the correlation is there.

Look around a bit on the department site and you will find a program to market fresh green chile in cities around the country. What a good idea. But which cities? That’s the rub. The cities are not listed on the website. So how do New Mexicans tell their friends? To find the cities, you must deduce the need to call the Marketing and Development Division which has the incompletely listed number. I got to the division yesterday by calling Dr. Gonzales office (575-646-3007) and being crabby about the lack of a division number.

If you want to know which cities offer fresh green chile, call Dr. Gonzales office, get transferred to the marketing division, ask for a marketing specialist and then ask about cities.

The division also houses the department’s public information person, though the website doesn’t tell you. The woman, whose name is omitted here because I think she is innocent of the sins of the environment within which she works, is a successor to the department’s previous several-person information-services group.

The ag department’s website also lacks mention, or at least obvious mention, of the Chile Pepper Institute,, which is, the institute's website says, “dedicated to educating the world about the wonders of chile peppers.”

Starting Sunday the 12th, the institute hosts the 20th annual International Pepper Conference. The institute seems to be the world center for all things chile. It’s even housed in an ag department building.

Why no mention? No clue. Bureaucratic jealousy, perhaps? But hey, the boss has been busy annually commuting to Cuba and developing zero trade business for New Mexico.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fall and Chile: Essential New Mexico

For my family and for bunches of others around the state, processing green chile is an annual late summer / early fall ritual. Again we went to Wagner Farms in Corrales, a rural sliver surrounded by Rio Rancho, the Rio Grande and Albuquerque. There were five of us: your correspondent, spouse Susan Bennett, Lind Gee, our photographer for the day, her husband Mark Murray and my mother, Iverna Morgan.

On Saturday, September 4, we arrived a bit before Wagner’s 9 A.M. opening. I chose the final gate to be opened which allowed about 15 vehicles into the parking lot ahead of us. Oh, well. Some years ago a truly better mousetrap appeared in the form of a chile roaster. This year I noticed a new efficiency-improving wrinkle—a two-chamber chile roaster. See photo.

The Bennett/Morgan group got one two-bushel (or 40 lb.) bag of Big Jim medium chile. The Gee/Murray group went for a bushel of Big Jim and a bushel of hot. A few people got six or eight bags, an astonishing figure given that it took our two groups a total of 12 man/woman hours to process a bushel.

But then our processing approach might be more fanatically thorough than others. We remove the skins and the pods and turn the chile over to a second team for final peeling and removal of remaining seeds and burnt bits of skin. Rubber gloves are mandatory for our crew. Finally, the chiles are placed in quart-size freezer bags and frozen.

The Big Jims processed as usual with meaty chiles and skins that commonly removed easily. The hot chiles were smaller and had a thinner skin that was a chore to remove.

Lind Gee’s photos show Wagner’s sign, the truck load of chile awaiting unloading, roasting, peeling and the final product.

About a month ago we dropped by Hatch. Semis loaded onions and chile left town every few minutes. In a tiny town such as Hatch, such activity creates an impression.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Media Notes: Albuquerque, El Paso and Santa Fe

Albuquerque Journal

Online classified advertising is said to be the main reason that newspapers are in revenue trouble. Exceptions exist to that general rule, assuming it is correct. We have one.

We had a 2003 Toyota Camry, about 100,000 miles, fully loaded with goodies including compass.

We sold the car through an ad in the Albuquerque Journal. We tried Craig’s List for a couple weeks to start. No response. Our buyer was woman from Farmington.

El Paso Times

With a Mexican government document as the source, the El Paso Times’ Diana Washington Valdez had a story this morning that was a sort of an incredible score card of the drug wars—who is fighting with whom and the body count attributed to the various rivalries. It should be noted that “rivalries” is far from the correct word, given the body count, but nothing better comes to mind. I have met Diana Washington Valdez. She is one of the few human beings tough enough to even think about pursuing such a story, much less actually pursue it. Washington Valdez has a book, “The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women,” detailing (and I mean detailing) the femicides, the slaughter of women along the Mexico-U.S. border.

The New Mexican (in Santa Fe)

Finally, on a happier note, The New Mexican in Santa Fe has endorsed Diane Denish’s approval for a constitutional convention for New Mexico. Las Cruces-based Heath Haussamen of raised the issue with the two candidates for governor and “printed” (however one does that electronically) the responses last Tuesday. I explored the constitutional convention issue approvingly in the now-defunct Capitol Report New Mexico in 2009.

New Mexico’s constitution is a mess. We need to start over. Good for Denish. Good for The New Mexican.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Constitutional Convention: Denish, Si. Martinez, ?

Picking up on the supremely obvious proposal more than a year ago by Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, for a Constitutional Revision Commission, blogger Heath Haussamen asked the two candidates for governor, “Do you support the creation of such a commission – or possibly even a new Constitutional convention – to consider changes to the state Constitution? What specific changes to the Constitution would you propose?”

Haussamen published the responses yesterday.

Diane Denish thoughtfully engaged the question and took 381 words to respond.

In her 92-word comment, Susana Martinez didn’t specifically mention the constitution. She said, “As governor, I will institute the necessary changes...”

Apparently Ms. Martinez doesn’t understand that New Mexico’s constitution is an out-dated, archaic, cumbersome mess that also restricts actions by the governor.