Rescind, Revise, Repeal: Read This if You Care About Clean Water, Air and Land in New Mexico

 

By Tracy Dingmann

Back in February, we did an Inspection of Public Records Request of Gov. Susana Martinez’s office that revealed documents showing that her “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” is packed with big-industry lobbyists who carry a distinctly anti-regulatory agenda.

 

Included in the documents was a “mid-point report” from the task force that contained a number of startling recommendations for the Governor regarding drastic rollbacks of environmental and construction rules.

The task force is due to issue a full report of recommendations to the Governor on April 1.

But just recently, our request yielded even more documents from another state agency that went into even greater detail about what the group wants the Governor to do about some very specific and crucial regulations.

Continue reading

A Follow To Our Small Business Task Force Stories: Tracking The Campaign Donations

By Tracy Dingmann

We at Clearly New Mexico would like to give a hat tip to the Estancia-based blog NM-Central.com, which did some important follow-up to our stories last week on the Governor’s Small Business-Friendly Task Force.

To recap: In one of her first acts as Governor, Susana Martinez froze all pending state regulations and created the task force to, as she said, review whether they would be good for New Mexico businesses.

An Inspection of Public Records request revealed the small business task force in charge of deciding whether to keep or scrap regulations was loaded with lobbyists for big and out-of-state corporations and other representatives from large, in-state businesses – not exactly the “mom and pop” shops Martinez said in her State of the State speech that she wanted to protect.

NM-Central.com tracked the campaign contributions of some of the folks on the task force and turned up some interesting information.

Here’s what they found:

We only looked at one lobbyist. Roxanne Rivera-Wiest is listed as representing the Associated Bulders and Contractors, Inc., New Mexico Chapter. ACBI contributed $17,000 to the Martinez campaign.

Frank Yates, past president of Yates Petroleum – Yates Petroleum is listed as a “top contributor” (number 11) and contributed $56,000 to the Martinez campaign.

Perry Bendicksen, “Albuquerque venture capitalist” – We find little on Perry Bendicksen as a venture capitalist and much on Mr. Bendicksen as an attorney representing venture capitalists for the firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber Shreck, LLP. His page at Brownstein et al. indicates that he is a member of the Board of Directors and Chair-Elect of the Association of Commerce and Industry of New Mexico. He is also the Honorary French Consul for New Mexico, whatever that means. He has represented Gupo Cementos de Chihuahua, the New Mexico State Investment Council, the College of Santa Fe (sale of assets to City of Santa Fe), and others.

Sarah Chavez, listed as Director of Sales and Marketing at El Pinto Foods in Albuquerque – We didn’t find any contribution information. However, “mom and pop” does not describe El Pinto Foods, which (according to their web site) produces 2,000 cases of chile sauce per day. Your editor found it in a grocery store in Sutton, West Virginia a few years ago.

Dale Dekker, listed as Albuquerque architect – Mr. Dekker is one of the principals of Dekker Perich Sabatini, with offices in Albuquerque, NM, Amarillo, TX, and Las Vegas, NV. According to the DPS web site: “Dale serves on the executive board of the Economic Forum, the boards of the NextGen Economy, the Albuquerque Economic Development (AED), the National Board of Directors for the National Association of Industrial and Office Park developers (NAIOP) and was appointed by Governor Bill Richardson to the Construction Industries Commission and the Governor’s Education Progress Agenda Task Force.” Followthemoney.org lists a modest $500 contribution to the Martinez campaign.

Kevin Yearout, listed as Albuquerque mechanical maintenance operator – This one is interesting. Kevin Yearout is listed as having donated $5,000 to the Martinez campaign as an individual. Yearout Mechanical of Albuquerque is listed as having donated $10,000 to the Martinez campaign. Cheryl Yearout donated $2,000, and according to Dexknows.com, there are a Kevin and Cheryl Yearout living at the same address in Albuquerque. Lian Yearout donated $5,000 to the Martinez campaign. We found multiple references online to a “Kevin and Lian Yearout Foundation” in Albuquerque. If these are all related, that amounts to $22,000 from the Yearout network.

Mike Unthank, listed as Independent management consultant in Albuquerque – A Robert Michael Unthank is listed here as being on the Martinez transition team for the General sErvices and Information Technology Committee, and fits the description in the Clearly New Mexico article. Followthemoney.org lists a $250 donation from a Mike Unthank of Albuquerque to the Martinez campaign and a total of $1,150 from Robert Unthank of Albuquerque, bringing the potential grand total to $1,400. Robert Michael Unthank was a registered lobbyist from 2005 to 2009, representing Santa Fe Trust, Inc. and Tetra Corp. Jigsaw.com refers to a Robert Unthank as Human Resources Manager at Tetra Corp in Albuquerque.

Carol Wight, listed as CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association – The NMRA donated $5,000 to the Martinez campaign.

The blog concluded:

Whether any of this seems to represent a “pay to play” situation bears some consideration. Some of it does seem to come rather close. All things considered, it certainly does seem as if “politics as usual” and “business as usual” are close companions in New Mexico, and especially in the Martinez Administration.

NM-Central.com said it used a number of online tracking sites to gather the contribution information, including the excellent site FollowTheMoney.org.

The site breaks down not only individual contributions to candidates but calculates the percentage that each industry – oil and gas, dairy, construction, real estate, unions  – has contributed to each.

So you can do your own sleuthing, here’s a link to the FollowTheMoney.org page for Susana Martinez.

We also wanted to provide a link to the FollowTheMoney.org page for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish, so you could see the differences – and there are significant differences.

Enjoy your sleuthing – and draw your own conclusions!

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.