Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Year Of The Child" Morphs Into "Year of The Re-Elect;" Big Bill Floods the Zone...Again; Opening Day At The Fabled Roundhouse 

What does it take for a hyperactive, always-on-the-go-Guv to relax? Apparently a half billion dollar surplus and almost certain re-election prospects are enough to do the trick. And probably a little professional coaching as well. The Guv unveiled his new speechmaking style with élan Tuesday as he stepped under the bright lights to deliver his fourth State of the State address to the packed chambers at the storied Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

"He looks natural. He doesn't appear to be reading every word," commented the ABQ Trib's Kate Nelson as we watched the stemwinder at the studios of KNME-TV. Ex-GOP Chair John Dendahl grudgingly agreed as he looked on with a mixture of bemusement and envy at the man who has come to dominate the state's political scene like no other in recent memory and hopes to replicate the feat on the national stage.

And being stage-ready has been one of his problems. But Tuesday a more steady beat and tighter writing helped the Guv score style points. Gone was the old pol who often looked pained to get the words out; words that often did not sound like his own. Tuesday, as Nelson picked up on, the big time beckoned and the Guv is preparing not only for his seemingly inevitable re-election, but also for the higher standards of national office.

Of course, confidence is boosted when you have a state flush with a half-billion dollar surplus and more coming in every day. Oil was back at $65 a barrel in New York as the Guv took to the podium.


In addition to improved cosmetics, there was also a more conciliatory tone to this one, analyzed KOAT-TV political reporter Matt Grubs. And why not? With the campaign coming, Big Bill needs a quiet Legislature not a "cantankerous" one as Grubs put it.

The goal is not a win, it's a landslide. To that end, the Guv scaled back the statewide minimum wage plan and moved to repeal the so-called bed tax on nursing home patients. Those are two items that the R's might have been able to score points on. No longer, as the "Year of the Child" morphed into the "Year of Re-election" before your very eyes.

"There will be no feeding frenzy on tax dollars this year," deadpanned the 58 year old chief executive. For sure. He's taken away a lot of the shark food by proposing big outlays for new schools, a spaceport, generous public employee pay raises and a $30 million tax cut to boot. But don't worry frenzy fans. KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson gleefully reported that some lawmakers are still calling the next 29 days: "Porkfest 06."

And therein lies the little problem that Big Bill did not talk about. Is it safe to funnel millions of extra dollars into state agencies that haven't exactly won excellence in government awards? Dendahl was quick to pounce pointing to what he claimed are ongoing problems at the Children Youth and Families department in this "Year of the Child."

But, for the most part, the R's seem content to oppose the bureaucracy and the Governor's program, not reform or hold accountable. But much of his program is going to pass. Why not accept the inevitable and get on with the task of demanding accountable spending and producing legislation to do just that?

Leader Sanchez
It was a glorious weather day with clear blue skies casting their spell across our fair New Mexico but, as he did last year, State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez created a little rain shower for the Guv. In the hours before the speech, he said ethics legislation to clean up the Treasurer's Office is too complicated for a thirty day session. Last year on opening day, you may recall, he questioned the Guv's plans to pay for life insurance for NM National Guard members, but it flew through the Roundhouse. The ethics one is a little more testy for the lawmakers, but if nothing is done, as Leader Sanchez proposes, it could give the R's an opening on the campaign trail.


It came when Big Bill mentioned a transportation item and the clap of a lone applauder echoed across the chamber. Joked the Guv: "Thanks, Dan Silva, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee."

There was no laughing about that controversial commuter train the Guv is proposing. It wasn't even mentioned. (Is it not polling well?)) But the spaceport was in the Guv's orbit. That's the one with national appeal, in case you run for President. Probable GOP Guv nominee, Dr. J.R. Damron, took a swipe at the commuter train right after the Guv spoke. An Alligator at KRQE-TV noted the Guv's office refused to respond, calling it unfortunate "politics." How long will they be able to use that line?” He wondered. How long, indeed?


When the Guv announced the spaceport earlier this month, U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman had prepared a video for the news conference that never was seen, resulting in a slight to the junior Dem Senator who is also seeking re-election this year. Big Bill went out of his way Tuesday to give Bingaman credit for, of all things, fighting obesity and junk food. Oh well, it may have been an awkward make-up moment, but it's the thought that counts, I guess.

Back to the Damron diatribe for a second. He also argued that it’s smoke and mirrors; that New Mexico has not improved its national rankings. Big Bill saw it coming and pointed out in his speech the significant increase in national rankings for teacher pay and education “accountability.” He will need as many of those as he can find if he’s to breach that magic 60% re-election margin.


I wish the hardworking Capitol press corps good luck in uncovering the various food fights that will develop in the next month, but don't see much coming of them....Why does Big Bill each year expose himself to the hit that he proposes too much, floods the zone if you will? There is a method to his madness. It makes him appear ahead of the parade, and while not everything he proposed will pass, he will be able to argue that he deserves another term so the solons can enact what remains of his ambitious agenda. The public will look at the final scorecard and see if he got the big ones, not the little ones. So far, he has.

It's worth repeating. The most important number in New Mexico is not the state budget or the current surplus, it's the price of oil. The Guv's term has been blessed with exquisite timing, but if the oil price starts to leak, watch out. Then you'll see a real feeding frenzy. As Roundhouse reporting legend Ernie Mills would say: "Don't say we didn't tell you."

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