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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dateline D.C.: Wilson's Waffle; Social Security Fix Puts Her In A Fix, Plus: Jeff Goes All In, Announces Re-Elect; My Exclusive Analysis Right Here 

Heather
In a move that could have major political implications, ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson is now refusing to rule out giving her support to measures allowing individuals to invest their Social Security taxes in the stock market. The Heather shocker comes on the heels of her statement that she would not support allowing the "government" to invest such funds in the markets, but when asked whether "individuals" should be able do so, Heather stiff-armed ABQ Journal reporter Michael Coleman and refused to answer the question. Heather's alarming quote: "I don't play word games and I don't deal with hypothetical situations. I try to do things to benefit my constituents."

But since when did major policy that impacts thousands of New Mexicans receiving Social Security checks become hypothetical? Dems have been screaming over this one and are led by the liberal blog Talking Points Memo(scroll to Feb. 10) which moved the issue front and center. In 1998 Heather said she would support stock market investments for social security, but when asked about it during a KOB-TV debate during last year's campaign she gave a one word answer that stunned her opponent: "No."(See my Feb 7 blog for Heather's first reaction to the Bush reform plan)

SPLITTING THE HAIRS


But now it appears she is trying to have it both ways; wanting to keep her older constituents who oppose such investments from freaking out and also trying to keep in the good graces of the hard-core conservatives in the House who favor such investment. From this corner, she is playing with fire coming as she does from a moderate district that is constantly on the Dem's radar. But it could have even more impact when she takes her ambitions statewide. A position that is apparently now neutral on the hottest of hot potatoes leaves a nice big hole for someone to drive thru.

Heather's pouty refusal to answer the question shows, that despite nearly seven years in the Congress, her skills in the complex world of our La Politica are still rough around the edges. Manuel Lujan Jr. and Steve Schiff, who preceded her, never refused a question or an inquiring phone call. And they deflected the tricky ones suavely. Heather might be well-advised to take a lesson from them, rather than from her hard-right Texas colleagues who are having fun cornering her. Don't say we didn't tell you.

JEFF GOES ALL IN

His ears must have been burning. The chatter had grown so loud lately it seems Senator Jeff Bingaman finally decided to throw in the towel. He announced Monday he will indeed seek a fifth, six year term to the U.S. Senate. In a Valentine's Day love note to his supporters Dem Bingaman leaned heavily on those old liberal standbys, education and healthcare, to tell his friends that at age 61 he is not ready for the rocker.

Bingaman's decision means political junkies won't get a dream scenario of all three of NM's U.S. House members seeking to replace him. It also has some at the Roundhouse crying in their beer because it means Big Bill is not getting out of their way via the Bingaman exit. For the Republicans, it was no big whoop. They did not have a significant candidate to run against the popular Silver City native before the announcement and they still don't have one.

Even though he has only a quarter mil or so in the bank, Bingaman should have no problem holding on to his seat. The money will now flow and he remains well-liked and respected. Check that well-liked statement. Remember, Jeff is a liberal in a conservative era, but his liberal "sins" are overlooked by many righties because of his sincerity and demonstrated concern for the state. Bingaman, a Harvard lawyer and former NM Attorney General, has also had no ethical lapses.

THE CAMPAIGN AHEAD

The rap on Jeff is that he is disinterested, lacks national stature after all his years in the senate and has a so-so legislative record. That might hurt his ego, but it's hardly the stuff that will sow the seeds of his defeat. Besides, the Bingaman persona of being civil while disagreeing has even greater appeal in a Washington tearing itself to shreds in partisan strife.

But history tells us anyone can be beaten. The R's have a responsibility to field a respectable candidate. A younger, vibrant type may be the best bet to contrast against an aging Jeff and to score him for his unabashed liberalism. But with a strong Bingaman and strong Big Bill, the R's are now pressured to come up with at least one strong contender of their own at the top of the ticket or risk down ballot bleeding in 06.'

Even after nearly thirty years in the game, Bingaman still reminds many voters of the anti-politician. He is the last to grab a microphone and the first to offer it to a colleague. He plods along, under the radar at a tortoise like pace. But he does his homework and shows up for work. Sounds like a lot of people you know, no?

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