In State Government, Transparency Goes Both Ways

By Tracy Dingmann

The Albuquerque Journal makes a compelling argument today in calling for more sunshine in the Roundhouse.

In an editorial called “Lawmakers, Let’s Put the Sunshade Away,” the Journal takes the state Senate to task for passing a rule that bans people from taking audio or video of committee meetings (news media excepted).

It’s an argument we at Clearly heartily support. Committee meetings are public. Under the First Amendment, the New Mexico Senate has no business prohibiting anyone from taking audio or video of public meetings conducted in our State Capitol.

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Are You Sitting Down? Here Are The Recommendations From The Gov’s “Small Business-Friendly” Task Force

Gov. Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

When Gov. Susana Martinez wrote an executive order on Jan. 1 halting all pending state regulations and creating a “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” to review them, the group had 90 days to come up with a plan.

Ostensibly, the task force was to consider each regulation and rule on its merits and then submit a fair and balanced report to the governor by April 1, detailing which rules the state could keep or scrap.

Except that’s not what’s been going on.

Meeting in Secret, With an Agenda

The members of the “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” were named in secret and have been meeting in secret. Only by filing an open records request under state law have we been able to find out who is on the task force and what it is meeting about.

Through documents gained from our request, we learned the task force does not represent New Mexico’s small business community. Instead, it is packed with large-business people and lobbyists from industries that gave big to the Martinez campaign – and who have been fighting back hard against pending state regulations.

The internal documents show members were never inclined to keep any of the regulations – in fact, they are focused on devising tactics the Martinez administration can use to eliminate each one.

The Mid-Point Report

Our request turned up one particularly fascinating document – a “mid-point report” dated Feb. 18 that, based on its unguarded language, was decidedly not intended to be shared outside the Gov’s office.

From the preamble:

“The task force does not wish to present a laundry list of problems to the Governor but develop solutions (sic). The goal is to provide the Governor and/or agencies cover when repealing or revising a rule or regulation thus avoiding litigation if possible.

The final report to the Governor will include a road map of short and long-term tactics and strategies, including the use of executive orders and legislative strategies. Each troublesome regulation identified will be accompanied by a recommendation on the best way to remove their negative impacts (sic).”

The report says the task force decided to focus on two areas of regulation: construction and the environment. Specifically, the task force wants to focus on regulations in the Environment Department, the Energy, Natural Resources and Minerals Department and the Division of Game and Fish, as they are “having the most impact on economic development and the will determine (sic) the best approach to rescind or revise the troublesome rules/regulations.”

Singled out as examples of “onerous legislation” are the “Pit Rule” and the “Enforcement and Compliance Rule,” both of which apply to and have been extremely unpopular with the oil and gas industry in New Mexico.

Here’s what else is in the report:

  • The task force doesn’t want New Mexico to do any more than what’s required by the federal government.

From the report:

“The first motion of the Small Business Task Force was to propose that state rules and regulations across the board be no more stringent than federal requirements and to correct any rule or regulation that requires more regulation than federal standards.”

  • The task force recommends that the Economic Development Department develop a secret “whistleblower complaint log and phone-based hotline” for businesses who want to complain privately about NMED enforcement of rules and regulations.

From the report:

“Companies often do not want to be seen as “troublemakers” by filing public complaints. If they do have complaints about NMED, this would ensure that companies would have confidentiality if they make complaints about departmental policies or practices through the whistleblower program. The EDD Office of Business Advocacy would administer this program and investigate complaints.”

  • In what sounds awfully ominous for mid-level classified employees, the task force says it has found that even in cases where exempt department heads have been removed, those pesky classified employees who have to actually enforce the rules (and who can’t be fired without cause) are undoubtably going to let their “anti-business agenda” stand in the way of the kind of rollback they are looking at. The task force plans to come up with ways to “mitigate” that, the report says.

From the report:

“Beyond changing a rule or regulation is the enforcement and handling of regulations and rules, particularly with permitting, by mid-level classified employees. An overarching theme we have observed is working with mid-level classified managers at NMED and other departments who still have an anti-business agenda despite changes in leadership at the department level. The committee is looking for ways to mitigate this situation.”

What Else?

Here are the other recommendations from the task force:

  • Removing New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative, a group which advocates for a coordinated Western effort to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Removing the New Mexico only “cap-and-tax.” This refers to a set of carbon emission rules that the state adopted late in the Richardson administration after an advisory board considered nearly two years worth of public and expert testimony.
  • Working with other western governors to “delay the adoption of new air standards.”
  • Having the New Mexico Environment Department develop a fast-track environmental permit process to mitigate complaints from businesses
  • Repealing, modifying or replacing the regulatory amendment implementing the collective bargaining wage rate scheme for prevailing wages provided for in 2009 amendments to the Public Works Minimum Wage Act, also known as SB 33.
  • Looking at state building codes to identify ways to “bring compliance back down to the levels of international code.”
  • Combining and reducing the number of construction permits required.

Public Records Request Shows Gov’s “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” Met In Secret; Is Packed With Lobbyists for Oil and Gas, Mining and Dairy

Gov. Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

When Susana Martinez assumed the office of Governor on Jan. 1, she faced a clear choice. Would she protect New Mexico’s clean land, water and air by fighting to keep environmental regulations strong – or would she instead focus her energies on stalling, relaxing and eliminating regulations for certain wealthy, mostly out-of-state industries who contributed generously to her campaign?

New Mexico’s new Governor chose the latter course. Minutes after she took office, Gov. Martinez issued an executive order that halted all pending or proposed rules and regulations for 90 days and created a “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” to evaluate the rules for their “workability and reasonableness and (to) determine whether they are proper and necessary.” During the next 90 days, she said, the task force would decide which rules hampered small businesses in New Mexico.

Details were scarce about how Gov. Martinez defined “small business,” but in her State of the State speech, she spoke of wanting to help “mom and pop shops:”

“The big corporations have teams of lawyers and accountants to help them. It’s the small businesses – the mom and pop shops – the small start ups that get lost in the layers of red tape. We will help them, and in doing so, send a loud and clear message that New Mexico is open for business.”

At the 45-day mark with no word from the Governor, we started to wonder – How was that “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” coming along? Who’s on it, and when has it met? What has it discussed and what kind of changes is it looking to recommend?

We asked the Governor’s office nicely, but got nowhere, so we were forced to file an Inspection of Public Records request to get the answers. (More about that later).

This Is Small Business?

The list of members provided by the Department of Economic Development shows that the Governor’s “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” is dominated by long-time lobbyists for large corporations, including big dairy, which contributed thousands of dollars to Martinez’s campaign; and the oil, gas and natural gas industry from in and outside the state, which gave her hundreds of thousands. Both industries have huge economic stakes in keeping New Mexico regulations at bay.

The companies represented by lobbyists on the “small business” task force include oil and gas producers and distributors from Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Colorado; copper, gold and uranium mining companies from Arizona; a payday loan company based in Georgia and a giant tobacco company from North Carolina.

The seven lobbyists on the task force are:

TJ Trujillo

At the Roundhouse, Trujillo represents Biotechnology Industry Organization, BP America, Inc., Community Loans of America, Inc., County of Grant, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, Dell, Inc., El Paso Corporation, Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold, Gallagher and Kennedy, PA, Hewlett-Packard Company, Hunt Transmission Services, New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance, Occidental Petroleum Corp., DBA Occidental Permian LTD, OXY USA Inc., RAI Services Company (Formerly Reynolds American Inc.), Ruidoso Downs Racing, Inc., Ruidoso Jockey Club and State Farm Insurance Companies.

Here’s some help deciphering his client list:

  • Biotechnology Industry Organization is a Washington, D.C – based company that refers to itself as the world’s largest biotechnology organization.
  • BP America is a Houston-based oil and gas company (yes, that BP).
  • Community Loans of America is an Atlanta-based payday loan company.
  • Dairy Producers of New Mexico represents farms in New Mexico – a state which has some of the largest and most dense factory farms in the nation. Trujillo and the dairy group came under fire earlier this year when emails showed Trujillo, an attorney, and Walter Bradley, a former Lt. Gov and fellow lobbyist for the dairy association, were involved in helping write the executive order halting the regulations and creating the task force to review them.
  • The El Paso Corporation owns North America’s largest natural gas pipeline system and is one of North America’s largest independent natural gas producers. It is based in Colorado.
  • Freeport McMoran is an Arizona-based mining company that is the world’s largest producer of copper, gold and molybdenum and the leading manufacturer of copper strip, cadmium copper, copper wire and bars.
  • Hunt Transmission Services is a Dallas-based company that develops and acquires electric and pipeline transmission and distribution assets.
  • Occidental Petroleum is a Houston-based oil and gas company.
  • RAI Services Company (formerly Reynolds American) is a North Carolina-based tobacco company.

Karin Foster

At the Roundhouse, Foster represents Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Energen, Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, KFoster Associates, Shell Oil Company and Shell Wind Energy.

  • Chesapeake Energy is an Oklahoma-based producer of oil and natural gas – the country’s second largest.
  • Energen is a Farmington-based oil and gas company.
  • Shell Oil Company is a Houston-based oil company.

Minda McGonagle

At the Roundhouse, McGonagle represents: Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, American Council of Life Insurers, National Federation of Independent Business, Neutron Energy, Inc., New Mexico Chapter/American Subcontractors Association, Veterans and Fraternal Non-Profit Clubs of New Mexico, Inc.

  • Ajinomoto Food Ingredients is a company based in Chicago.
  • The American Council of Life Insurers is a lobbying group based in Washington D.C.
  • The National Federation of Independent Businesses is based in Nashville.
  • Neutron Energy is a privately held uranium exploration and development company based in Arizona.

Carla Sonntag

Sonntag represents the National Utility Contractors Association of New Mexico, New Mexico Business Coalition and the New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance.

Caren Cowen

Cowen represents the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and the New Mexico Wool Growers.

Gary Tonjes

Tonjes represents Albuquerque Economic Development.

Roxanne Rivera-Wiest

Rivera-Wiest represents Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., New Mexico Chapter.

Not Exactly `Mom and Pop

The non-lobbyist members of the task force are as follows (no offense to these folks, but I don’t see any “mom and pop shops” here, either):

Frank Yates: Past president of Yates Petroleum
Anna Muller: Albuquerque landlord and business owner
Perry Bendicksen: Albuquerque venture capitalist
Sarah Chavez: Director of sales and marketing at El Pinto Foods in Albuquerque
Dale Dekker: Albuquerque architect
Brent Eastwood: George Mason University professor, specializing in domestic policy and international security, and frequent contributor to American Enterprise Institute publications. Albuquerque
Joe DiGregorio: Gallup businessman
Kevin Yearout: Albuquerque mechanical contractor
Linda Kay Jones: Special assistant director of institutional advancement at Western New Mexico University
Robert Castillo: Information unavailable
Tom Hutchinson: Las Cruces restaurant owner
Mike Unthank: Independent management consultant, of Albuquerque
Carol Wight: CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association

The rest of the task force is rounded out by Gov. Martinez’s designated cabinet heads, including:

Jon Barela: Economic Development (task force chair)

Demesia Padilla: Tax and Revenue

Dee Dennis: Regulation and Licensing

Ed Burckle: General Services Department

Celina Bussey: Department of Workforce Solutions

Raj Solomon: General counsel at NMED

So Who’s At the Table?

The list of names makes a clear statement about who Gov. Martinez believes should be given a seat at the table of power and influence.

But do these selections match up with her rhetoric?

Here’s a quote from Gov. Martinez, from an interview with KKOB-770 yesterday regarding her philosophy of governing:

“We need to make sure the people are being represented…not the special interest groups that are showing up every day. We need to bring the people into the process.”

Here’s another quote from the Governor, also from yesterday:

“My biggest promise was that I was going to bring the people to the process, and there was going to be more transparency with what was goes on in the Roundhouse. And that includes the committee hearings.”

But apparently not task forces – looks like “the people” were left out of  finding what happened in those – unless they filed an IPRA request.

What Happened At Those Secret Meetings

Thanks to our open records request, we learned that the task force was named and began meeting secretly in February.

Notes taken by an Economic Development Department staffer show the group made no consideration of keeping any of the pending rules or regulations. The notes show that agenda items revolved around which industry wanted what rules rolled back – and how the Martinez administration could accomplish it.

Task force members weighed and discussed all possible tactics the Governor could use to block incoming regulations – repealing a rule, making an executive order, attempting to pass legislation.

Among the documents we received in our public information request was a mid-point report from Feb. 17 that is full of recommendations the task force apparently didn’t want to share with anyone. (We’ll post that entire report later today.) And we still have a request pending for more documents to come from the Economic Development Department, which facilitated the meetings.

Why Secret?

But why were these meetings closed? Similar task forces in the past created by the Governor and chaired by the Economic Development Secretary were held in the open, with meetings announced in advance and conducted around the state in public places with plenty of input from regular New Mexicans.

Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, says the the state Open Meetings Act probably does not apply to task forces created by the Governor.  But as one of the state’s leading advocate for transparency in government, Welsh noted that the Open Meetings Act sets a minimum standard for which meetings must be noticed and open to the public.

Welsh said today:

“The Open Meetings Act sets out a broad public policy of openness, stating `it is declared to be public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.’ As our state Supreme Court has put it, openness is the rule and secrecy is the exception.”

Makes you wonder what this task force is trying to hide.

You’ll find out exactly what in our next post, when we share the recommendations from the task force’s midpoint report.

Claus’s Recap of Week Five

By Claus Whiteacre

Week Five of the 2011 New Mexico Legislative Session began on Valentine’s Day with a rally to support traditional marriage at the Roundhouse. Those who rallied were surely disappointed Thursday when the House Consumer and Public Affairs committee tabled three bills seeking to define marriage as man + woman only.

Gov. Lobbies, Videorecords

On Tuesday, in a highly unusual move,  Gov. Susana Martinez showed up in Senate Public Affairs committee to lobby in favor of a bill expanding DNA testing to all convicted felons. As Trip Jennings reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, governors testifying before legislative committees is “as rare as July snowstorms in Santa Fe.”

After her appearance, Martinez promised to come back before legislative committees this session to testify on other bills.

Also this week, Gov. Martinez began directing her staff to videotape selected committees and then post those videos on her website.

The Governor’s office later said it is taping and posting what it considers to be “key” committee meetings in the name of transparency.

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Community Rallies at Roundhouse for Anti Racism Day

Poet Hakim Bellamy performing in the Capitol Rotunda on Anti Racism Day. Photo by Claus Whiteacre.

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

The most important piece of health legislation in this year’s session might just be one without the words Medicaid, health insurance, or the names of any disease conditions in it.

Instead, it is a bill addressing institutional racism, the practices and policies within institutions (e.g schools, courts, hospitals, businesses) that lead to unequal access to resources based on skin color.

A week ago, the health professionals, educators, and community activists of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group (NMHEWG) rallied for the bill at the first-ever “Anti Racism Day” at the legislature.

House Joint Memorial 32, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) passed its first test, being approved by the House Labor Committee at 8pm on Thursday, February 17th.

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PNM Settlement on Rate Hike Rejected

By Tracy Dingmann

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has refused to accept a utility rate hike settlement proposed by PNM that some groups called secretive and unfair.

The PRC acted Feb. 17 to reject the settlement, which would have allowed PNM to raise rates by almost eleven percent.

That settlement had been strongly opposed by New Energy Economy and other parties on various grounds including legality, due process and adequate public notice.

In its action yesterday, the PRC said it would only consider an uncontested settlement or stipulation when considering a future rate hike.

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Only Yesterday: Jeff Bingaman vs. Harrison Schmitt 1982

by John Daniel

Back in the day: Senator Jeff Bingaman

Today’s retirement announcement by five-term Senator Jeff Bingaman recalls to mind the election back in 1982 that launched his remarkable career. That was the year Bingaman challenged a sitting Senator, a one-term incumbent whose name just recently popped back into the news —  Harrison Schmitt.  (link link link)

Bingaman’s 1982 campaign was particularly noteworthy in that it really represented the emergence of the state’s environmental community as a major player in New Mexico politics.

After winning a tough primary against former Governor Jerry Apodaca, Bingaman went into the general election as the underdog, trailing Schmitt in the polls until catching him in the final days. The pivotal event in that race were negative TV ads aired by Schmitt that backfired.

Here’s is how Time magazine described that race:

NEW MEXICO. Harrison Schmitt, 47, first rocketed to fame in 1972 when he landed on the moon as an Apollo astronaut. That feat helped propel him into the U.S. Senate in 1976. But in a state with an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, Reagan’s economic programs hurt Schmitt badly. State Attorney General Jeff Bingaman, 39, constantly linked Schmitt to the White House and called attention to his lackluster six years of service. But Schmitt may have largely engineered his own defeat. The Senator attacked his opponent with a pair of ads blasting Bingaman’s record as attorney general, a post he has held since 1978. One spot attacked Bingaman’s handling of a 1980 prison riot inquiry, while the other accused him of requesting a pardon for a prisoner who had once been on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Both commercials turned out to be based on inaccurate information. So incensed was Santa Fe Archbishop Robert Sanchez that he publicly denounced the prison inquiry ad, an invaluable boost for Bingaman in a state that is one-third Hispanic and largely Catholic. At the polls, Bingaman brought Schmitt back to earth, 54% to 46%.

And that’s the way it was, 29 years ago.

Child Welfare, Civil Rights and the Nature of Marriage

By Claus Whiteacre

After a lengthy debate Thursday afternoon, three bills related to same-sex marriage were tabled in the House Consumer and Public Affairs on a straight party line vote of three to two.

At the request of committee Chair Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) all three bills were presented together. So, while public comments and committee debate addressed the three bills as one, each bill was voted on individually.

The action came after hours of testimony and debate about the child welfare, the nature of marriage and civil rights for all New Mexicans.

In the end, all three bills were tabled along party lines, and thus are unlikely to be brought back in the house this session.

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“The Silence of the Republicans…”

By Tracy Dingmann

A peek into internal Tea Party communications shows New Mexico Tea Partiers are none too happy with certain Republican legislators for not speaking up more vigorously to defend the doomed Voter ID act.

The bill, HB 308, was heard Tuesday in House Voters and Elections committee and again in that committee today, where it was tabled on a 7-6 party-line vote.

In an email from the East Mountain Tea Party that went out after Tuesday’s meeting and before today’s vote, an organizer lamented that Republicans have not been paying enough attention to Tea Partiers and their complaints:

“Sadly, it appeared that the Republican leadership does not appreciate the Tea Party support they have received, nor their advice. It was a very unsatisfactory meeting, but I suppose it accurately reflects how they do business in the People’s House in Santa Fe. I know that other Republicans greatly value the support of the Tea Party. Perhaps a change of leadership might help to bridge the gap and rectify the unwillingness to hear simple advice about getting vital bills passed.”

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Important EPA Hearing Tomorrow on the San Juan Generating Station!

By Tracy Dingmann

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing in Farmington tomorrow to determine the scope of a plan to force cleaner operation of the San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners area.

The San Juan Generating Station is known as one of the dirtiest coal-burning power plants in the nation. The massive 1,848 megawatt coal-fired power plant is owned primarily by Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM. The plant, which consists of four coal-fired boilers, is located in northwestern New Mexico near the town of Waterflow.

The power plant is the second largest source of air pollution in New Mexico (right behind the Four Corners power plant). Every year, its air pollution contributes to 33 premature deaths, 600 asthma attacks, 31 asthma-related emergency room visits, and other health impacts, at an estimated cost of more than $254 million.

Its air pollution affects indigenous communities in the region, a number of National Parks and Monuments, and regional smog levels, the nearest being Mesa Verde National Park, which is 30 miles north.

One of the best hopes for cleaning up worsening air quality in the Four Corners region is for the owners of to clean up air pollution from its smokestacks by installing proposed pollution-control upgrades.

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