Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Big Blog: Big Bill Kicks It Off; Exclusive Analysis Of The Speech, The Power Plays, The Media Moves And The Dan Foley Flip  

Big Bill On Day One
The funniest and most revealing part of Big Bill's State of the State speech on opening day of the two month Legislative session Tuesday came near the end when he commented on his leadership style: "Sometimes I overdo it," he chuckled. And the 112 lawmakers and guests chortled in agreement. As in years past, the Guv's opening day speech was overdone, but as in past years, it served to re-establish him as the state's premier political figure (Sorry, Pete) and provided him with the setting to demonstrate his grasp of and passion for the issues of his time.

The Guv is a big occasion guy and rises to meet the moment. He can seem bored stiff in a myriad of settings but given center stage he takes command. It is a reminder of his large personality; the one he has used to often rule by edict with little protest from a state that offers him little in the way of real political competition.

The speech itself was a classic centrist affair, offering a little something for everyone. It would seem no matter what the Legislature ends up passing, Big Bill positioned himself to take a share of the credit. He continues to emphasize his tax-cutting credentials, even as some NM Republicans finally awake and try to point out to the national press that raising fees has offset many of those cuts.


On style, the Guv did pretty well. He is from the old-school and can come cross preachy and like a ward-heeler, but his passion manages to emerge. He clearly knows his stuff and commands attention and authority. Now into year three, he may have to work a bit to get excited about another speech to the Legislature, but if he does, it does not show. He has a tongue-in-cheek humor at the right moments and his efforts at self-deprecation are funny because neither he nor the audience, who know him well, fully buy into it.The speech itself was workmanlike and thankfully devoid of phony, flowery language. Big Bill is a pragmatist, a can-do type of figure. The speech, much like Bill Clinton's famous laundry list stemwinders, fit this Bill.

Overall, I agree with my veteran observers of New Mexican politics, including ABQ talk radio pioneer Mike Santullo, that this third year of the Guv's term, a time when past Guv's have started to leak air, does not seem to have Big Bill losing steam. He can thank the R's in part. They have not fielded a tough candidate for 06' so he has less to worry about and the Legislature can't hold next year's election over his head. And the leverage of 08,' when Big Bill plans to seek the Dem Prez nomination, lies well down the road.


Several political junkies pointed out what they called the unusual seating arrangement for the Guv's chief of staff, Dave Contarino. "What was he doing down there?" mused one, who noted that Dave was seated immediately to Big Bill's left, well within TV camera range. Some said the spot is usually taken by immediate family or other dignitaries, not a staffer. Whatever the case, it was duly noted by those seeking to read all the tea leaves of Gubernatorial power.


KOB-TV, which has emerged in recent years as the breaking news leader, provided wall-to-wall coverage of the speech, the only commercial station to do so. KNME, per tradition, also carried it live in its entirety. KNME actually beat KOB on cosmetics. What is with the dark lighting on channel 4? The KNME picture was brighter and the close-ups of the Guv more revealing. But KOB gets credit for streaming the speech live on the internet and for flashing the key points on screen during the talk.


The story we broke here on January 7 came to fruition on opening day. 74 year old Ben Altamirano of Silver City was elected Senate President Pro Tem, busting the coalition of R's and D's that had led that chamber the past few sessions. The committee assignments we also first reported should soon become official as well. The ABQ Trib's Shea Andersen tells us that Tom Garrity, former spinner for the Albuquerque Public Schools, has picked up a PR contract to spin Ben's work, replacing former TV reporter Stuart Dyson who worked for old Pro Tem Richard Romero.

Rep. Foley
Outspoken hard-right GOP State Rep. Dan Foley of Roswell had the jaws of his fellow R's dropping at the Roundhouse opening day when he cast his vote for Speaker of the House. He voted for Democrat Speaker Ben Lujan! Why? Most speculators attributed it as a slap at his fellow lawmakers who defeated him for House Minority Whip at the hands of Terry Marquardt. Others thought Foley cut a deal with the Dems to keep his committee assignments, or get more "pork" for his Chaves County district.

Foley has been the most vociferous of Big Bill's critics, so making a deal with the Dems seems highly unlikely. If Foley was "punishing" his fellow R's for rejecting him in caucus, he may have ended up punishing himself when it comes to any statewide political ambitions he may harbor. A final point: Foley has been affiliated with the break away Barnett faction of the GOP and his vote for Lujan again demonstrates the inability of the minority party to fully unify and take on the Dems who are led by this most powerful of Governors.

If the next two months are going to give this Guv real trouble, it appears it is going to come from within his own ranks. And that's today's bottom line.

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