Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

FRI: Former Cabinet secretary defends auto dealerships from Tesla, + More

KUNM Morning Newscast with Nash Jones, Oct. 8, 2021

Former Cabinet secretary defends auto dealerships from Tesla– By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A recently retired Cabinet secretary who oversaw New Mexico’s first major foray into electric vehicles for government fleets has gone to work at a lobbying group for automotive dealerships as they safeguard state-authorized control over direct sales of new vehicles from incursions by electric-car maker Tesla and other potential rivals.

Ken Ortiz retired in June as secretary of the General Services Department. He has begun work as president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association by publicly defending New Mexico’s ban on direct sales of motor vehicles and highlighting local employment provided by auto dealerships.

Tesla forged a route around the state’s direct-sales prohibition last month as it opened a store and repair shop on autonomous Native American land at Nambé Pueblo in northern New Mexico. It marked a new approach in Tesla’s yearslong fight to sell cars directly to consumers and cut dealerships out of the process.

The company led by business magnate Elon Musk can only sell and service its vehicles freely in about a dozen states.

In commentary delivered this week to news outlets, Ortiz asserted that new-car dealerships — and not direct-to-consumer manufacturers — are best equipped to deploy electric vehicles and speed the transition to cleaner transportation in response to climate change.

Contacted by phone, Ortiz said that “Tesla is not really the issue.”

He added: “We just feel that with the existing franchise law, outside of the sovereign nations, that dealers are there for a reason. We’re imbedded in local communities, we’re contributing to state tax dollars, with payroll.”

Heather Ferguson, executive director of the government accountability group Common Cause New Mexico, said the quick transition by Ortiz from Cabinet secretary to industry spokesman smacks of crony capitalism.

“The perception this creates, on the heels of the Tesla deal, is concerning,” Ferguson said. “Each one of these things chips away at the state’s national reputation as to whether businesses can come in and get a fair shake. It hurts our economy.”

Proposals to allow direct vehicle sales without a dealership have met with rejection by the state Legislature, as recently as 2019.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday through a spokeswoman that she would support reforms to the state’s statutory prohibition on direct new vehicle sales if initiated and approved by the Legislature.

Ortiz carved out a reputation as a trusted and skilled public administrator in state government under Democratic and Republican elected leaders, with roles ranging from motor vehicle division director to secretary of the state labor agency.

Appointed in 2019 by Lujan Grisham, Ortiz guided the General Services Department in contracting multimillion-dollar improvements to government buildings aimed at greater energy efficiency, incorporating solar power and lowing electricity bills.

Under Ortiz, the agency also introduced plug-in electric vehicles to the state fleet — and negotiated standardized pricing for government agencies with local automotive dealerships for the electric Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf, models chosen for compatibility.

Contacted by phone, Ortiz said he was at least two steps removed from those negotiations with dealerships.

Ortiz said the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association has contract lobbyists.

“So far I haven’t registered as a lobbyist yet because I have done no work with legislators,” he noted.

Ethics laws in most states provide a mandatory waiting period before someone leaving public office can engage in lobbying or register as a lobbyist. 

New Mexico has no “cooling off” period before former public officials can lobby legislators. The state’s Government Conduct Act has a one-year waiting period before a former public official can lobby the agency where they worked.

Concerns about the revolving door between government and industry surfaced in 2016 when Ryan Flynn became executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association weeks after leaving his job as Environment Department secretary under then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican.

Lujan Grisham spokeswomen Nora Meyers Sackett said Thursday the governor would support some sort of additional “cool off” period if brought forward and approved by the Legislature. 

New Mexico prepares to resettle 400 Afghan refugees – Associated Press

New Mexico is preparing to welcome 400 refugees who fled Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August, and groups are seeking volunteers and donations to help with the effort. 

About 100 of those refugees are expected to resettle in Las Cruces, according to officials with Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, the state’s primary non-governmental refugee resettlement organization. The remainder are expected to relocate to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. 

Andrew Byrd, the southern New Mexico coordinator for LFS, told the Las Cruces Sun-News that Afghan refugees are expected to relocate to the southern New Mexico city by March 2022. He said the numbers for the state and each city are projected capacities submitted by his group to the federal government.

Some Afghan refugees are being sheltered at nearby military installations as they are connected with resettlement organizations.

At Holloman Air Force Base, Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Range Complex and other military installations around the country, officials have said refugees are tested for COVID-19 before arriving. Once on base, they undergo further medical screening and can apply for immigration status and work authorizations before resettlement organizations place them into communities.

The LFS Las Cruces office partnered with the Muslim Student Association at New Mexico State University to help refugees once they arrive. The groups have asked for volunteers who can serve as translators and to transport donated goods. They’ve also asked people to donate money, furniture, electronics such as phones and laptops and school supplies.

Ballistics experts in Arizona case against airman disagree – By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

The attorney for a U.S. Air Force airman accused of killing a Mennonite woman grilled a ballistics expert who concluded that a bullet taken from the skull of the victim matched a rifle the airman owned.

The cross-examination of Lisa Peloza, a firearms examiner with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, came before the prosecution rested its case. The defense then put on its own firearms expert who testified Thursday that he disagreed with Peloza.

Mark Gooch’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, called just one other defense witness in the trial. Closing statements are scheduled Friday in Coconino County Superior Court.

Gooch is accused of driving several hours from the metropolitan Phoenix air base where he was stationed to northwestern New Mexico, and kidnapping and killing Sasha Krause. He faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and other charges.

Krause, 27, was gathering materials for Sunday school at the Mennonite community where she lived when she disappeared on Jan. 18, 2020. Her body was found more than a month later, face down with her hands bound by duct tape, on the outskirts of Flagstaff. 

A medical examiner determined she died from blunt force trauma and a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

Griffen sought to undermine Peloza by pointing out that she reproduced a colleague’s ballistics work in a high-profile case in metropolitan Phoenix that came under heavy scrutiny. Other ballistics experts came to different conclusions, and the case involving a string of freeway shootings in 2015 was dismissed.

In Gooch’s case, Peloza testified that she found sufficient characteristics specific to Gooch’s .22-caliber rifle and the bullet in Krause’s skull to say that gun fired that bullet. She said it wasn’t possible to demonstrate with visuals how she came to the conclusion, partly because of the quality of the photos taken from the microscope.

The defense expert, Eric Warren, said he tried to reproduce Peloza’s findings but did not see what she saw. His presentation to the jury included photos of the bullets he test-fired from the rifle, the test-fires done by Peloza and the bullet from Krause’s skull. 

Warren said he could not conclusively link the firearm that Gooch owned to the bullet from Krause’s skull.

“At most, I could find one, two things that matched up. But it all appeared random in nature,” he said.

Both experts said they rely on images under a microscope, not on photographs, to analyze and compare items.

The firearms testimony was the most contentious of the trial that is on track to go to the jury Friday. Jurors in Arizona are among those in a few states that can ask questions to witnesses. On ballistics alone, the jury submitted about a dozen questions in writing to Brown Nichols, who read them aloud. 

One juror was dismissed Wednesday because of a family emergency, leaving two alternates.

Gooch did not testify. 

There’s no indication he and Krause knew each other. But both grew up in the Mennonite faith — Gooch in Wisconsin and Krause in Texas where she was a teacher. No eyewitnesses, DNA or fingerprints link Gooch to Krause’s disappearance and death, making the case against him largely circumstantial.

Authorities used cellphone data, financial records and video surveillance to determine Gooch’s phone traveled to Farmington, New Mexico, the day Krause went missing. Before heading back to the air base, the data showed a detour about a mile from where Krause’s body was found. Video at the base showed Gooch’s car return early the next day.

Prosecutors allege Gooch had a general disdain toward Mennonites, and he tried to cover his tracks by deleting Google location history, getting his car detailed and asking a friend to store a rifle.

Gooch told a sheriff’s detective he took a drive the day Krause disappeared because he had time and was seeking out Mennonite churches for fellowship. His times and the records don’t match up. Gooch denied killing Krause.

He has been jailed in Coconino County since his arrest in April 2020. Reports from the sheriff’s office show he has two disciplinary records, including a physical fight with an inmate that left him with a bloodied nose and black eye. The report doesn’t detail what led up to it. 

Growing up, he worked on his family’s farm in Wisconsin, attended a Mennonite school through the eighth grade, got his GED and joined the Air Force against his parents’ wishes, his father, Jim Gooch testified Thursday. Mark Gooch never officially joined the church, his father said.

“To the best of my knowledge, he wasn’t of a converted heart,” he said. “And, at that point, I don’t think he felt a need for it,” Jim Gooch said. 

Explainer: What’s behind the looming Hollywood strike? – By Lindsey Bahr AP Film Writer

A major Hollywood strike could be on the horizon for some 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers in the entertainment industry. Over the weekend, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IASTE) overwhelmingly voted in favor of authorizing a nationwide strike for the first time in its history.

Here we look at who is involved, what they’re asking for and what’s at stake.


The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (or IATSE for short, pronounced eye-AHT’-see) is a 128-year-old union representing over 150,000 artists, craftspeople and technicians in the entertainment industry in the United States and Canada. Comprised of cinematographers, costumers, set designers, script supervisors, hair and makeup artists, animators, stagehands and many, many more, the IATSE represents essentially everyone who works in any form of entertainment (including movies, television, theater, concerts, trade shows and broadcasting) who isn’t an actor, director, producer or screenwriter.


The three-year contracts that cover about 60,000 of the union’s members — one that primarily covers film and TV production in Los Angeles and Hollywood and another that covers other production hubs including New Mexico and Georgia — expired in July. For the past four months the union has been negotiating new terms with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Those discussions fell apart on Sept. 20. The IATSE says that the AMPTP have failed to address their biggest workplace problems, and membership voted overwhelmingly to give the organization’s president, Matthew D. Loeb, the ability to authorize a strike.


The IATSE says its members are subjected to excessive working hours, unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts and failure to provide reasonable rest, including meal breaks and time off between marathon working days and weekend work. Further, they say that workers on some “new media” streaming projects get paid even less. The Instagram account @ia_stories has been sharing anonymous accounts of some harrowing personal workplace stories and the effects of the excessively long hours on everything from personal safety to mental health.


The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is a group that represents hundreds of entertainment companies, including the major Hollywood studios, streaming services and production companies, and negotiates essentially all industry-wide guild and union contracts.


In 2009, the IATSE and studios mutually agreed that new media productions required greater “flexibility” because the medium was not yet economically viable. That has changed in a big way, but the expectation of flexibility from crews has not. They feel they are being taken advantage of while streaming budgets and profits have reached blockbuster levels.


Social media support has been significant and many prominent people in the film industry have spoken out in support of the crews, like Octavia Spencer, Mindy Kaling, Jane Fonda and Katherine Heigl. On Monday, the Directors Guild of America issued a statement of solidarity too, signed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Barry Jenkins, Ron Howard, Ava DuVernay and Lesli Linka Glatter. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and 118 Senators and members of the House have also sent a letter to the AMPTP urging good faith negotiations.


No, and leadership on both sides have said they would like to avoid it if possible. On Tuesday, the IATSE and the AMPTP resumed negotiations. 


With 60,000 workers covered under the expired agreements, most productions would have to shut down in the U.S., including network shows and Netflix productions. But not all are affected: The IATSE contracts for “pay tv,” including HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and BET, don’t expire until Dec. 31, 2022 so those will keep going. Same goes for commercials and low budget productions, which also have different agreements.

As far as long-term consequences, it all depends on how long the strike goes on. The 100-day 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, which also came about when contracts failed to address “new media” realities and loopholes, resulted in scuttled projects, shortened seasons of popular television shows and an influx of reality shows to fill the schedule gaps. Most networks and streamers have content reserves to fill the gaps for a bit.


We wait.

Navajo Nation reports 49 more COVID-19 cases, 5 more deaths – Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Thursday reported 49 more COVID-19 cases and five additional deaths.

It was the second consecutive day that the tribe reported at least one coronavirus-related death after going six days in a row with no additional deaths.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe’s totals to 34,309 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The known death toll now is 1,453.

Navajo officials still are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel. 

All Navajo Nation executive branch employees had to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The new rules apply to full, part-time and temporary employees, including those working for tribal enterprises like utilities, shopping centers and casinos. 

Any worker who did not show proof of vaccination by the deadline must be tested every two weeks or face discipline.

The tribe’s reservation is the country’s largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. 

Arizona panel votes to reduce utility’s potential profits – Associated Press

Arizona utility regulators are moving to reduce the potential profits of the state’s largest electricity provider as part of a pending rate-setting case that also includes consideration of two major coal-related issues.

On the final day of a three-day special hearing, the Arizona Corporation Commission voted 4-1 on Wednesday to reduce Arizona Public Service’s authorized profit on its expenses to 8.7%, down from 10%. 

The regulatory panel sets rates and decides certain operational matters related to rates for Arizona’s investor-owned utilities.

Commissioner Justin Olson said his proposal for an 8.7% return on equity was an appropriate response to the utility’s performance on customer issues since its last rate case in 2016.

Those issues notably included the company providing customers with a rate comparison tool that provided misleading results, Olson noted.

APS wanted to keep to a 10% profit margin, with CEO Jeff Guldner unsuccessfully arguing the 8.7% return would make it hard for APS to borrow for system improvements to handle the state’s growth and the utility’s transition to renewable energy.

Guldner said he was working to change the utility’s culture and direction and wished he could alter its past. “I wish I could change it, but I can’t,” Guldner said.

The commission on Wednesday left unresolved whether it will let APS expand its rate base to include about $450 million of pollution-control upgrades to its coal-fired Four Corners Generating Station near Fruitland, New Mexico.

APS recently announced it plans to reduce the plant’s capacity by fall 2023 and retire it by 2031, years earlier than originally planned.

An administrative law judge had recommended to the commission that the upgrade costs not be charged to ratepayers, but APS said the spending was prudent because the plant is useful and that getting power from an alternative source would be costly. 

The commission voted to hold additional hearings on the Four Corners issue and on APS’ proposal to use ratepayer money to pay $100 million to Navajo Nation communities affected by closures of coal plants, mainly the Navajo Generating Station near Page.

Olson and commission lawyers questioned whether ratepayer money could legally be used for payments to non-customers and non-Arizona residents. The Navajo Nation, which is not in APS’ service territory, includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The commission voted 3-2 to keep the payment issue open to address additional questions, including the proposal’s legality, despite at least one commission wanting to offer assistance immediately.

“This commission has failed coal-impacted communities,” Commissioner Sandra Kennedy said. “There will be highly concentrated pain on those who need it and deserve it the least.”

Guldner said during the hearing that APS had committed $25 million from its parent company’s shareholders to help the communities transition to new industries. The money will come from profits, not ratepayers, he said.

The power plant issues and the utility’s return on equity are parts of an overall rate case that the commission will decide later.

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