Hal Rhodes

© 2016 New Mexico NEWS SERVICES
4/11/2016
Old primary election rules under stress
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
    2016 promises to be like no other primary election year in New Mexico state history.   Virtually all of the old rules and customs by which state politicos have heretofore comported themselves during a presidential election year have been upended.
     Hardly any of the would-be 2016 wannabe presidential candidates have paid the slightest attention to the political sentiments roiling in the craws of state voters in advance of the approaching presidential primaries elections in these parts. 
     If you want to know what the major players in the state political parties are up to, you pretty much have to track them down at their favorite haunts –- and even then they’re apt to give you a less than welcomed glad hand you might traditionally have expected from big name politicians previously known to have stalked the storied hustings of these precincts.
    Things are just not the same, I’ll have to tell you. Where not long ago only big chested political bosses with booming sets of tonsils would have grabbed you by the arm and shaken it senseless in the local tradition of renewing an old distant friendship, today you’re more apt to have been a vague acquaintance who inadvertently deigned to disturb their peace.
     Turns out the political action in this enchanted land has gravitated to those banks of talking heads that look remarkably the same as one glances from one monitor to another, each and every one wearing carbon copies of the hair styles and make up jobs of her-his talking head associates.
     They even read their copy the same. Anything fresh or original that some reporter might have stumbled upon and passed along the way, by the second telling will almost certainly have been ground beyond the contours of tiresome repetition.
     But that only stands to reason. The networks that orchestrate these chatter fests are rarely seeking to unearth fresh “news,” and when they happen to do so it can prove to be a show stopper.
      When Donald Trump bumped into Megan Kelly’s revealing expose of some of his more tasteless feminist remarks, he was so undone as to virtually have to withdraw from the game simply to regain his footing.
      To her credit Ms. Kelly stood her ground and the bully was left to show his colors.
     Just late last week, the big mouth proved his colors to be opaque, vapid and vacuous, just more bombast from the same bloviated windbag who has spent the past several months advertising himself as the acknowledged “frontrunner” for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
     What no one wanted to acknowledge is that this puffed-up blowhard has been revealed to be held in low regard, nationwide, by 7 out 10 in the latest poll sample published last Friday by the Associated Press-GfK-pollsters.
    To be a hot political property by three out of ten prospective voters is a small claim to fame.


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
4/4/16
First ladies, real and imagined
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
     I come from a long line of Republican Matrons. These were ladies whose courtesy toward those with political differences at odds with their own was nonetheless genuine and sincere.
      Mind you now, neighbors were courteous to one another, irrespective of partisan differences.
     Still, they were born and bred to hold their tongues, keep the peace when in the company of persons with political opinions significantly different from their own.
     One of my grandmothers even learned to tolerate the brash young Democrat her pretty daughter, Elizabeth, brought home during spring break from college and who shortly joined the family as her new son-in-law.
    They may have exchanged diverse views on social and political matters, but they were muted and circumspect, never confrontational. The president, “Ike,” was always spoken of admiringly and with respect for his courage and wartime heroism.
       Mrs. Eisenhower, the first lady, was routinely admired for the fussy little hats with which she adorned herself. Otherwise, she was simply Mrs. Eisenhower, the “first lady” who as far as my parents were concerned was known to be a “smoker.”
      As a child that was a shocker.
      Of middle aged women of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations who carted around packets of cigarettes in their tidy little handbags, smoking was then certainly permissible –and, indeed, commonplace-- but as my grandmother might routinely have lamented, “It’s a very unfortunate thing to do.”
     Well times change. Tastes change. But reflections of this sort filled my thoughts late last week when another “feud” (if that is the term for it) broke out between the warring political camps into which the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have divided themselves as the clock runs out on the race for the 2016 Republican nomination.
     Given the stature and self-advertised accomplishments of the combatants in this “feud,” you have to wonder how it could be that a billionaire-by-inheritance, with no significant record of achievement to his credit, and a first-term U.S. senator from Texas could descend into caterwauling about whose wife (and/or political aides) had nothing better to do than leak “nude” or ‘”semi-nude” old photographs of one another in an effort to embarrass one another and/or their husbands.
      Attempt, if you are able, to imagine a Mamie Eisenhower or a Bess Truman reduced to such shenanigans.
        What is with these people? First ladies, real or imagined, simply didn’t comport themselves in this fashion. And if there were nude pictures lurking about, they would have long since been consigned to a roaring fire in the furnace, nevermore to be mentioned, let alone acknowledged.
     Sorry folks, this current crop of wannabe presidential nominees stomping around under the Grand Old Party’s banner are increasingly embarrassments to any and all American voters whose ballots they court.
    Ask yourself this: How on earth did a sophisticated nation of people manage to belch itself up these phony “frontrunners” and dare to submit them as major party candidates for the presidency of these United States?
     We are far better than this kind of trash.  


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
3/14/16
Trump's rump GOP
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection        
      Having spent a good share (or worst part) of this winter observing largely from my sick bed those events which have thus far shaped the 2016 race for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations, let me say outright that Trump’s rump is too much to bear.
     But, then, even in the most tranquil of times, Trump’s bum would likely be too much to bear.
      When one is fighting fevers and surgeries, the thought of our fellow citizens nominating a presidential candidate with a derriere more nearly the girth of William Howard Taft’s than anyone to have sought the presidency since 1912 is hardly appealing.
     Are these the same American Republican voters who just four years were mounting the barricades on behalf of a fellow named Mitt Romney? Or for the reelection of an incumbent Democratic president bearing the exotic nomenclature, Barack Obama, a young man who had yet to complete a full term as a United States Senator from the hoary state of Illinois?
    The doctors had told me that reducing the fever and removing some squamous cell skin cancers from the top of my head would perk me up nicely and perhaps even cure what ailed me.
     No one mentioned, however, anything whatsoever about the world of American politics suddenly being turned inside out with a whole new cast of characters claiming the skills (never mind the credentials) sufficient to qualify themselves for that big desk located in an oval office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.
      Yet at one point only a few weeks ago, well over a dozen hitherto obscure (but presumably) registered Republicans were scrambling all over virtually every cable news organization with a working battery of cameras ready to propound various versions of why they are the most compelling candidate to be the next president of these United States.
      My guess is that unless you are a certified political junkie, more than half of those who lined up to pitch their “ideas” and unburden themselves of their “thoughts” on the rationales motivating them to run for the nation’s top job, the names that went with those faces have already faded from memory for most viewers who sampled whatever it was they were peddling.
     It was kind bi-partisan actually.
     Republicans outnumbered Democrats far and away, and, of the three Democrats, only Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders continue their quest.
     Meanwhile numerous former Republican hopefuls have fallen by the wayside.   
     The only Republican woman to linger in the group for any length of time was Carly Fiorina, whose main claim to fame was to have been hired briefly and fired with equal dispatch as head of the Hewlett-Packard computer outfit. 
       She also lost her only other election as the Republican candidate, having been designated to run unsuccessfully against California Democratic Sen. Barbara Box when she ran for another term.
        Otherwise, the Republican field has been reduced to the likes of Ted Cruz (Texas), John Kasich (Ohio), Marco Rubio (Florida) and the Trump Rump.
       It’s worth noting that along the way another Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, made a bid for his party’s nomination. It came to naught, and Sen. Graham has subsequently spent a good deal of his time lamenting the fact that he and the other GOP hopefuls didn’t do something about Mr. Trump when they all still had the clout to clip his wings.
     Said the South Carolina senator last week: We should have kicked Trump out of the party!
     Perhaps similar thought have lately also crossed Hillary Clinton’s mind whenever the matter of Bernie Sanders comes up.   

 
© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
2/15/2016
AG Clears Health Groups
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
         Gov. Susana Martinez literally decimated her state’s behavioral health services programs back in 2013 when she froze funding and threatened prosecution of 15 organizations engaged in providing those services to clients whose mental health was left hanging in the balance.
     The impact on those affected by Martinez’s actions made national news and by all accounts staggered both the providers and their clients.
      It was the first, if not the worst, indication to surface that the still freshman governor was predisposed to act on impulse when the wellbeing of some of her most vulnerable citizens hang in the balance.
     Last week, state Attorney General Hector Balderas dismissed all but two of those investigations. Balderas pulled no punches in explaining his actions, either. 
     “There did not appear to be a pattern of fraud for any of the ten completed investigations,” he said in a letter to state legislators.
    Three other cases had already been dismissed and the remaining two are still in process of being reviewed.
     For the mental health professionals and their clients who had abruptly been denied the health services to which they were entitled, the Attorney General’s actions were welcome news.
    U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Grisham, a New Mexico Democrat, plainly relished the moment.
    “No pattern of fraud,” she wrote on Facebook. Yet, she added, “nobody in state government has been held accountable for the unconscionable decision to shut these providers down and turn our behavioral health system upside down.”  
    And turn the state’s “behavioral health system upside down” is precisely what the governor did with her precipitous actions. Freezing funding to providers of services calculated to the needs of persons known to suffer from mental illnesses is a risky business and, to no one’s surprise, it was bedlam when the realization settled in that alternatives to the existing providers weren’t readily available.
     Reliable estimates eventually concluded that up to 30,000 (and perhaps more) New Mexicans with problems ranging from drug abuse to suicide prevention were caught up in the chaos that followed.
     New Mexico-based companies went out of business and the scramble to find qualified and/or suitable replacements was intense. Neighboring Arizona was reportedly heavily recruited in the search for trained and experienced mental health providers.
       Stories have it that some of those providers subsequently went on to find places to practice their skills more welcoming than what they found waiting for them in troubled New Mexico.
       It will almost certainly take years—and, arguably, another governor—before New Mexico mental health advocates can fully rebuild the cadre of professionals who were buffeted and left bruised by Gov. Martinez’s mayhem of over two years past.
     Indeed, judging from current comments on this matter emanating from her spokespeople since the Attorney General’s actions, a vested animosity toward behavioral health remains a mindset in the Martinez administration.
     Perhaps the best place to begin the process of rebuilding would be for the governor to instruct her palace guard to at long last promulgate that notorious 400-page-plus “audit” which, rumor has it, lays to rest those “credible allegations of fraud” which the Attorney General has now laid to rest.
      Careers were ruined, reputations sullied and people in need of professional help have suffered by this heavy handed saga.


© NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
2/8/16
Primaries: Open and Closed
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
     Last week two Democratic members of the state House, Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque and Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos, introduced a proposed amendment to the state Constitution making it possible for voters registered as independent to cast their ballots in state primary elections.
    Also last week Donald Trump, the bloviated New York billionaire and self-advertised “frontrunner” for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, pulled out of a Fox Cable TV “debate” with the other contenders in that race.
     Seems Trump declined to submit to questions posed of him by the moderator of that debate, Megyn Kelly, because he feels she doesn’t “respect” him. Fox News and Ms. Kelly, on the other hand, dismissed Trump’s tantrum with the suggestion that he doesn’t like difficult questions when he’s in the spotlight performing.
     You pick. My guess is both camps are probably correct.
     But Mr. Trump’s latest campaign stunt was at least a novel way to put on a show without the bother of putting on a show. It also underscores one of the chronic challenges associated with popular self-government.
     For reasons that mystify, there are normally more of our fellow citizens willing (determined?) to run for public office than there are offices for which to run. So how does a democracy winnow a field of potential candidates down to manageable proportions?   Historically that has often meant a minimum of two or three candidates for a given elective governmental seat or post.
     In the American experience, particularly in the latter years of the 19th century and early years of the 20th, we’ve had political bosses who did that sort of thing for us. We’ve also had conventions and caucuses pick our candidates to run for public offices. Way back in the days of “Divine Rights of Kings,” some of our forbearers thought it appropriate to permit a person’s station or birth to determine matters of that sort.
    But that was then and this is now, and in New Mexico today—indeed for a majority of states in this “more perfect union” of ours—the option has become some variation on the theme of the “primary.”
      There are all kinds of primaries. They range from so-called “closed primaries,” where only registered members of one or another of the political parties are eligible to vote. New Mexico has closed primaries.
     If you are registered as a Republican, you will vote in the Republican Primary. If you are a registered Democrat, you vote in the Democratic Primary. You can’t pick or choose. It’s either/or, Democratic or Republican--unless you change your partisan registration in time to meet appropriate voting deadlines.
     However, a number of states (at least 11 and perhaps more) have so-called “open primaries,” where any voter is eligible to cast his or her ballots, provided they are properly registered to vote. You can be a registered Independent, registered Democrat, registered Green.   You name it. Just be registered. 
      But in New Mexico’s closed primary system, as presently constituted, a voter’s registration requires you to sign up with a political party if you wish to vote in a primary election.
     The proposed constitutional amendment introduced last week at the Roundhouse by Maestas and Richard would change state election law to permit a voting age person to register as an Independent and still be able to vote in a state primary election.
    Under that regimen the voters must decide in which of the state’s official primaries—Democratic or Republican—they wish to ballot.
     And they won’t even have to listen to Donald Trump bellyache about some Cable TV moderator not showing the respect he thinks he deserves.


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/18/16
State of two states
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
    As it turns out, Donald Trump tweets.
    I found out about this after President Obama had wrapped up his State of the Union address last week.
     It was a good speech, actually – thoughtful, candid, truthful, hard-hitting and engaging. As most presidential State of the Union orations go, that’s a bit rare.
      Mr. Trump, on the other hand, didn’t like the president’s remarks in the least. Barely had the presidential teleprompter gone black before the real estate mogul was typing out this tweet for the edification of his acolytes: “The #SOTU speech is really boring, slow lethargic—very hard to watch.”
      Then, too, since he embarked upon his quest for the Republican presidential nomination several months back an impressive body of evidence has accumulated to suggest that the only voice Donald Trump truly likes to hear is his own.
      Which probably explains why the voice of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was even more off-putting for Mr. Trump than Mr. Obama’s, when she began her “official” Republican response to the president’s State of the Union.    
     The “Republican response” to a Democratic presidents’ State of the Union (or vice versa if president is a Republican) is a coveted political assignment, and this year all the GOP congressional bigwigs—Speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, the whole lot of them—put their heads together and agreed that this year Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina would do their responding.     
     Haley was one of two high profile women governors reportedly in contention for this duty.
      The other whose name often came into play was New Mexico’s Susanna Martinez who, like Haley, is thought to be a potential vice presidential running mate to whomever the party selects to be their presidential nominee at the national convention this summer.
      So it came as surprise when Gov. Haley, the winner of this sought-after assignment, unleashed a “Republican Response” that struck many listeners as an attack on the views noisily propounded for weeks on end by the individual widely regarded as the likely 2016 Republican nominee, none other than Donald Trump.
      “Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference,” Haley said, looking squarely into the cameras of NHBC nightly news. “That is just not true.  Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.”
      “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” Haley continued. “We must resist that temptation.”
     We can only assume that the South Carolina governor knew what she was saying when she read her lines “responding” to the president’s speech. There are numerous printed copies of it, and as far as this reporter has been able to determine they all say the same things.
      And certainly they were a refreshing variation on themes rarely if ever assayed by any of the “contenders” for the GOP nomination this year.
       Clearly Gov. Haley managed to produce a raging howl from Mr. Trump, although within a span of two days she had been persuaded by Republican Party hierarchs to downplay the candor she had made bold to display.
      Still, in short order, Donald Trump was back and bellowing at whomever he had selected as his target du jour.
       It would have been nice, however, had the fates conspired with GOP big shots and picked New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez, to offer their response to the president’s address.
      It would have warmed her up for her own State of the State address this week and those things always need refreshing.

 

© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
1/4/16
On snow balls and drivers’ licenses
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
    As best my research has been able to determine, testing American drivers’ skills as a prerequisite to operating motor vehicles on public arteries began in 1899, and it started in two U.S. cities, Chicago and New York City.
     The purpose of that testing was to validate motorists’ ability safely to use and operate all those automobiles and other motorized locomotives that had suddenly started lumbering along the local roadways and streets which previously had served mainly as thoroughfares for horses and buggies, oxen and wagons.
     The new tests also measured a would-be motorist’s “knowledge of the road,” including speed limits, stop-and-go regulations, rules governing left turns and right turns and all the other protocols involving  the art of operating motor vehicles.
     When a person passed one of those tests, he or she would be licensed to drive and would be given an actual artifact known as a “driver’s license” which validated his or her ability safely to drive.
       It wasn’t nuclear science or brain surgery, of course. It was simply a very sensible thing to do. If you are going to have all these vehicles running around on public roadways, make sure you set down some rules to ensure that persons operating motorized vehicles have passed the required tests.
       So what have we done with this common sense arrangement?
        Well, here in New Mexico lately, we have pretty much screwed it up.
        Who among us hasn’t stood in line at a grocery store—even pricey grocery stores like Whole Foods—trying to purchase a bottle of wine only to be told by checkout clerks that they need to see a driver’s license before the purchase can be transacted?
       We’re talking here about a bottle of wine, for crying out loud, and Whole Foods wants proof that I’m licensed to drive!
      It’s the old case of drivers’ licenses as a form of ID. They’re checking my age, although for many of us “proof of age” is written all over our faces and if that isn’t apparent to Whole Foods then Mister Whole Food should turn in his shingle.
      It is simultaneously a misuse of the driver’s license and an abuse of the customer.
       And then voters of New Mexico encumbered themselves with a governor who thinks drivers’ licenses should be tantamount to “proof of citizenship.”
      Forget about this hoary tradition (and conviction) that licensing drivers is foremost a matter of public safety, a way to make sure that people who operate their vehicles on our streets are licensed to do so.
     New Mexico’s governor wants only American citizens to be required to meet that test. All others would be exempt from that safety imperative. Undocumented drivers must remain unlicensed drivers.
      She won two elections on that platform so the idea must resonate with her supporters, but it has locked her and the people of her state in a box.
      Turns out a New Mexico driver’s license in its present form may not even get you on an airplane or certain government installations. Seems New Mexico drivers don’t meet federal standards that add up to being a “Real ID.”
       We’re not talking here about bottles and/or snowballs hurled from the balcony of a Santa hotel in a frenzy of holiday fun.
       On the 10th day of this New Year, if the governor and leaders of the Legislature don’t get it together by signing letters that brings New Mexico licenses into conformity with federal law, neither documented nor undocumented residents in this enchanted land may be able—let alone licensed--to do much of anything.


© 2015 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES            12/21/15
Ethics overdue at the SOS shop
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
    With former state Secretary of State Dianna Duran in the Hoosegow for the holidays, New Mexicans should seize the moment by demanding their legislators, who convene at the Roundhouse next month, to undertake reforms of the state’s wobbly campaign finance reporting “system,” so-called. 
     As secretary of state, Duran was supposed to be New Mexico’s top ethical watchdog dog of such matters, and the woes that put her behind bars are a testament to how faithless she was to that charge.
     Her idea of “reporting” on her own campaign finances was to transfer contributions to her political campaigns over to her personal bank accounts to cover casino gambling debts that otherwise would have gone unpaid. 
      It took the state’s attorney general to blow the whistle on that sleight of hand hanky-panky. 
      The 2016 Legislature will be a “short” 30-day session, constitutionally limited to budgetary and money matters, but among a number of campaign finance reforms to enjoy grassroots support in New Mexico is a proposal to establish a nonpartisan independent agency with sufficient funding to investigate conflicts of interests and other sordid misconduct.
     If the Dianna Duran caper taught us nothing else it is that an incumbent secretary of state can become his or her own conflict of interest. An independent commission looking over the shoulders is used in other states and has proved to be a corrective to such mischief.
     Gov. Susana Martinez has already filled the vacancy at the secretary of state’s office created by the resignation Duran after her legal problems made it clear that she was not going to survive the storm.
     Brad Winter was just elected to a fifth term on the Albuquerque City Council, which is simply to note that he’s an old political warhorse in the Duke City. He was also, briefly, acting superintendent of the Albuquerque Public School system after the person hired for that job walked out.
     In appointing Winter as secretary of state, Martinez praised his “integrity, skills and temperament” for the job.
     The appointment, however, almost immediately raised eyebrows. Currently the longest-serving member of the Albuquerque City Council – five terms are nothing to sneeze at—Winter’s political longevity stems in part from the very safe and very Republican Northeast Heights district he has represented at City Hall for over a decade and a-half.
     He is, in short, a part of the central New Mexico Republican political establishment, which is to say part of the New Mexico Republican Party establishment.
    His wife, Nann Winter, is an attorney and was appointed to the New Mexico Finance Authority by Martinez in 2012. She now serves as general counsel to the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
     In short, New Mexico’s new secretary of state is something of a fixture in the state Republican Party consortium; he is also on the best of terms with the state’s Republican governor.
   Which is why some of those aforementioned raised eyebrows that greeted Secretary Winter’s appointment came to arch.
      Going into his campaign for a fifth City Council term, even though his re-election was virtually assured, Winter apparently felt the need to hire a campaign consultant to prepare for the election, which was held this past October. The consultant he hired (for just under $30,000) turned out to be none other than Jay McCleskey, Susana Martinez’s celebrated political guru and factotum, who is reportedly under FBI investigation at the present time.
    All that notwithstanding here’s wishing Brad Winter good luck in his new assignment.   He’ll need it. Not only will he be making $85,000 as year as SOS, he’s keeping his City Council seat at $30,000 per annum. 

© NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
12/7/15
Polling Presidential Campaign Pinocchios
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
       My local daily newspaper does relatively little by way of covering the presidential primary campaigns currently under way back in places like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa, so last week I checked online for some updates.
      It was quite informative.
       The night before, I had heard on national television that prominent Republican movers and shakers are increasingly worried by the prospect that billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump seems to have a sizeable lead in the race for their nomination.
       It is still almost a year before any Republican primary voters in any states can cast their ballots on the issue, and, in politics, a lot can happen in the course of a year. Nonetheless, reports have it that Republican party insiders think they would lose the 2016 election if Trump were at the top of their ticket.
      Too divisive, they say. Arrogant. A bully. He’s already alienated whole blocs of voters and now he’s even intimated that CNN should pay him $5 million simply to appear alongside the other candidates at the next GOP debate.
      There could well be something to those concerns. Trump does come across as boorish at times. He stretches the truth, makes things up, like that yarn about watching whole crowds of Muslims cheering in New Jersey when the twin towers crashed to the ground on 9/11.
      Muslim-baiting is good politics out on the Republican campaign trail this time around.
      If my online tour last week is any indication, a variety of polls that were just then in the process of being released suggest that rank-and-file Republican voters are less concerned about Trump pulling the ticket down than are GOP big shots.
     In a story reported on nbcnews.com about a newly-released Quinnipiac University poll, fully 73 percent of likely Republican voters surveyed were of the opinion that Donald Trump would run well against whomever the Democrats run in 2016.
      Indeed, according to the Quinnipiac survey, all of the top four Republicans seeking their party’s nomination are seen by their fellow partisans as running strong races against the eventual Democratic nominee. Sixty-three percent of GOP voters think Marco Rubio could win, 59 percent say Ted Cruz would win, and 55 percent say the same about Ben Carson.
      Ironically, a separate Quinnipiac survey of all likely voters found all leading GOP candidates losing a general election to Bernie Sanders who is running second to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. 
   A poll is just a poll, of course. It doesn’t elect or defeat anybody. Those duties are reserved to the voters.
       But the Quinnipiac group is a reputable outfit.
       Back in 2008, when some top polling organizations were giving the presidential race to John McCain, Quinnipiac was on the spot when it said it would be Barak Obama.
       Four years later when other pollsters were projecting a victory speech on election night by Mitt Romney, Quinnipiac begged to differ and predicted it would be President Obama giving such a speech. 
      Meanwhile, what my recent online tour of the current state of the race for the GOP nomination could not do was find nuggets of wisdom or kernels of truth falling from the lips of the Republican combatants.
     Perhaps predictably, that maladroit freshman senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, did manage to make a monkey of himself by uttering these words last week: “Here’s the simple and undeniable fact: The overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats.”
     Cruz was attempting to call attention to an obscure political science treatise, based in part on New Mexico data.
      Unfortunately Cruz couldn’t get his head around the study and his telling of this tale was so botched that the Washington Post’s “fact checker,” Glenn Kessler, gave him the week’s “Four Pinocchios,” an award reserved for truth-challenged politicians.
 

© NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
11/23/15
Susanna Martinez fans her party’s fanatics
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
      She’s held New Mexico’s office of governor for five years and her accomplishments are puny to say the least.
       Her state’s unemployment rate is chronically higher than the national average, higher even than jobless rates in surrounding states. Economic development efforts and job growth during her tenure have been tepid and unproductive. Public schools in her state are routinely rated poorly, worse in some respects than when she took office.
        Overall, her state is usually ranked at the bottom of the barrel by the outfits that hand out the sundry dubious achievement awards. Nonetheless, there is a constant drumbeat, nationally and locally, about a dazzling political future awaiting Susanna Martinez as an up-and-comer in her Republican party.
       Which is simply to remind ourselves that getting ahead in politics often has less to do with substantive accomplishments than it does with toeing the party line.
       If proof of that proposition is needed, simply reflect upon the governor’s statement last week announcing that she opposes any efforts to allow Syrian refugees to enter New Mexico. Martinez’s pronouncement made it unanimous among Republican governors who have all signed similar proclamations since terrorist mayhem engulfed Paris over a week ago.
       What we’re dealing with here is the shabbiest kind of politics, and since the Paris attacks Republican Party hierarchs in this country have manipulated it with a nigh religious fervor.
      Their frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, Donald Trump, proposes closing all mosques on U.S. soil. Trump’s closest rival for the nomination, Ben Carson, had already announced his opposition to any Muslim who might be elected president, even though religious tests for holding office is constitutionally impermissible in the United States.
      But this current crop of Republican “leaders” seems to think there is political advantage to be extracted from this nightmare and Susanna is marching lock-step with them.
     It’s insane. President Obama has cautioned Republicans against such craziness, noting that it merely functions as another recruiting tool for the already inflamed ISSIL terrorist movement.
    It is also gratuitous.  It is not within the powers of governors to deny admission of refugees to their states. That is a function of the federal government, and if there are any American governors who don’t understand that, they should be ashamed.
    Shortly before Martinez issued her proclamation, New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall released a statement of his own urging “the nation’s governors to follow a balanced, fact-based approach to the issues regarding refugees fleeing terrorism and violence in Syria.”
     How Syrian refugees got co-opted into the post-Paris grab bag of political mish-mash is still unclear, but the one (reportedly) verifiable factoid that gets bandied about is a Syrian passport that was discovered on a Parisian street thought to have belonged to one of the terrorist shooters.
      Think upon it. “Thought to have belonged.” Only in a world awash in political madness would a whole gaggle of Republican governors whip out a batch of partisan proclamations vowing to bar Syrian refugees from their states, which, remember, they don’t have the power to do.
    Francois Hollande is the president of France. Hundreds of his countrymen were injured by the injured by the terrorists’ gunfire, 129 of whom died. The day after Martinez signed her statement, President Hollande announced that his earlier pledge to admit 30,000 Syrian refugees to his country will be honored, after they are duly processed.
     Surely if the French president feels such measures are prudent, partisan U.S. politicians can do nothing less. 
      As Sen. Udall observed, in this country “potential refugees today are interviewed in person multiple times, screened for biometric data and undergo several layers of background reviews.”
       Governors, one and all, cease the political games.     

 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
11/9/15
The Looney-Tunes for Prez
By Hal Rhodes
Upon Reflection
    Watching the Looney Tunes seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination unmasks how surreal the party’s hierarchs have allowed their congregants to become. 
    New Mexicans are always at a disadvantage at this stage in a presidential election year, since New Mexico’s primary elections (including presidential primaries) are always held the first Tuesday of June. In the world of presidential primaries, that’s late.
    Which is simply to note that by the time our June 7 primary rolls around next year, the field of candidates still up and running will be a fraction of the 12 to 15 wannabes currently hustling votes in places like New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and other early primary states where the balloting begins in a matter of weeks.
    In short, the votes cast by New Mexicans in presidential primaries come too late in the game to weigh significantly in determining who will be the nominees of the major parties going into the November election.
     In this enchanted land, when it comes to major parties’ presidential nominees we’re almost always stuck with whomever voters in other states give us. It is an arrangement which diminishes our clout in presidential politics, compared to voters in states that do their primaries/caucuses earlier. 
     On the other hand, it has its advantages, among which is the fact that for most New Mexicans the process of picking presidential nominees is pretty much a “spectator sport,” something viewed from afar.
     Actually “spectator nonsense” might be the better term for it. So far this campaign season, most New Mexicans of my acquaintance seem to have been pretty much turned off by the political shenanigans they’ve been following out on the campaign trail. And perhaps because they have so blasted many candidates running this year, the Republicans appear to have succeeded in making themselves the most Looney of the lot. 
      Naturally, Donald Trump is the loudest of the bunch, virtually beginning every morning with a quick barb aimed at one or another of his competitors for the GOP nomination. The other day, amid Ben Carson’s bogus claims to a West Point “scholarship,” a reporter informed the billionaire real estate tycoon that Carson was still climbing in the polls, prompting Trump to suggest  someone wake Carson up “so he can be told.”
       The following morning it was Marco Rubio’s turn for a Trump thumping over how Rubio made generous use of a Republican Party credit card for personal purposes when he was in the Florida legislature. 
     “He doesn’t know anything about finance,” Trump bellowed. “And he is a disaster with a credit card.”
     Shortly thereafter, Rubio felt compelled to announce that the next day he would release the records of his credit card caper. Only the next day he announced it would be a few weeks before those records could be assembled.
         Jeb! Bush has felt the acid tip of the Trump tongue so often that last week he hired a debate coach, perhaps hoping to sharpen his own tongue when next The Donald and the Jeb! have a run-in.
      Viewed from a distance, the Looney-Tune’s brouhaha is perhaps most amusing after the guys and gal have their sport at a “debate” some cable television outfit has arranged. These are the occasions when it’s really good to live in a state that’s late in the primary election cycle, because few of these participants are especially graceful in debate, and none are pleasant when it is over.
       After the last such event the whole group, almost in unison, rose up in protest because they didn’t like the questions they were asked.
        Perhaps someone should tell the Tunes that the questions belong to the moderators. The answers belong to the debaters.
      One wonders if they’ll figure that out before the next debate this week.