Thursday, December 14, 2006
New Mexico Back On Top In U.S. House As Udall Snares Powerful Appropriations Slot; We Have Indepth Coverage, Plus: Big Bill Back On National Stage
Rep. Tom Udall
New Mexico's muscle in the U.S. Congress just got a lot beefier and the political career of Democratic Rep. Tom Udall just took a major leap forward with the announcement that the northern NM congressman has snared a spot on arguably the most powerful congressional committee of them all--the House Appropriations Committee.
Udall's jubilant staffers erupted into cheers upon the congressman's return to his office from the meeting where his appointment to the powerful panel was finalized. There was cheering here in our Enchanted Land as well, particularly Udall's northern NM district, as both Democrats and Republicans welcomed the news that our small state has risen to the top of the heap in the 435 member House, giving our military bases, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories and our federal lands added protection as the Democrats take power after 12 years of GOP control. In addition, the city of Rio Rancho, several Native American pueblos and Highlands University--all in Udall's district--stand to gain additional revenues.
"It was incredibly exciting. The phone calls and the emails started coming in right away," reported Udall press secretary Marissa Padilla in a late night phone conversation from Capitol Hill.
No doubt many of those calls and emails were from some of the top lobbyists in the nation who know the Democratic members of the committee will be the go-to group for every major federal program..
HOW HE DID IT
Udall's appointment to Appropriations came as a surprise to the state's political community. He gave no indication he was lobbying committee chairman Rep. David Obey (D-Wisconsin) and new House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi.
"He started meeting with Chairman Obey shortly after the election. They have a good working relationship as well as a social one. Tom lobbied hard and became one of the ten new Democratic members of the committee...He met with Speaker Pelosi several times and let her know how important it was for our part of the country to have representation on Appropriations," Padilla said.
Udall delivered. No question about that. The late Joe Skeen was the first and last NM U.S. House member (1981-2003) to serve on the committee and it meant major stroke and major millions for the state. Skeen ended up chairing various subcommittees of Appropriations and wore the title of "Cardinal" as such subcommittee chairmen are known because of the immense power they wield.
Udall, elected to a fifth two year term in November, will not chair any appropriations subcommittee right away but he will sit on three of them and the Interior subcommittee is a good bet for one of them. It is traditionally required that a congressman give up all other committee assignments upon being named to coveted Appropriations, but you can apply for a waiver. Udall currently sits on Veterans and Resources (formerly Interior.) His office says it is unsure if he will retain one of those slots. His official statement was:
“To serve on the Appropriations Committee will put me in a better position to serve New Mexico. I will continue to fight for our shared priorities, like assisting our veterans, improving access to health care, making education more affordable, and protecting our natural resources."
The statement seemed crafted in part to allay concerns that groups Udall has advocated for might lose his interest (He was in line for a House Resources subcommittee chairmanship) now that he is moving on up. But all causes Udall is interested in stand to get a major boost with the new committee assignment.
ATOP THE POWER HEAP
One of the first phone calls Udall had after his appointment was with NM GOP senior U.S. Senator Pete Domenici who loses his chairmanship of the Energy Committee when the Dems take control in January, but who is known for his effectiveness in securing federal dollars for the state whether he is in the majority or not and who retains a minority spot on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. The power pair spoke of "matters of importance to the state" said Padilla.
The Udall-Domenici relationship has been under a bit of strain lately as Senator Pete held up for a time consideration of Udall's bill to protect the Valle Vidal wilderness, but he finally relented and President Bush signed the Udall measure into law this week.
Domenici is nothing if not a pragmatist and can be expected to work closely with Udall now that the 58 year old lawmaker's power torch has finally been lit.
While Udall, a former eight year NM attorney general and son of former U.S. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, has major league stroke in the House, Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman steps in as chairman of the Energy committee, replacing Domenici and ensuring that the state's interests are taken into account by senior members of congress in both chambers.
The Udall ascension continues a New Mexico tradition of accumulating power in Washington far beyond our size. There's the aforementioned Skeen and Domenici and further back we had powerful Senators Anderson and Chavez.
Udall will be more closely watched than ever to ensure that he is using his position with the guile and effectiveness as those he succeeds. Much will be expected of him in a state so dependent on the federal government to soften the blow of stubborn poverty and low incomes.
Udall has often been mentioned as a possible U.S. Senate candidate when Pete retires, but that post has to look less appealing to him after Wednesday's blockbuster announcement. And it might look less appealing to voters here as well. For now, New Mexico has Tom Udall where it wants him.
BIG BILL DOINGS
It's hard to push Big Bill out of the political headlines. Even the Udall news couldn't do the trick, as the Guv grabbed the spotlight with the news that he is once again going to talk with those wily North Koreans in an effort to squelch the nuclear threat they pose. The meeting, sure to bolster his presence on the national stage just weeks before he dips his toes into the presidential waters, will take place in Santa Fe Friday.
MY BOTTOM LINES
Maybe Bill can use some more of his diplomatic skills with his Secretary of Health, Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Alligators say the Guv has asked her to take her old job back at the state aging department, but she has balked at the notion. Who is tougher? The North Koreans or Michelle? Stay tuned...
I had some confusion Wednesday with Senator Pino's plan to redistrict the 1st CD and make it a bit tougher for Republican Heather Wilson to retain the seat. The bottom line is that ALL of Valencia county would be placed in Heather's district. Currently the county has precincts in both the 1st and 2nd districts. I had blogged that the Pino planned called for "some" Valencia precincts to go into the 1st CD. KRQE-TV's Dick Knipfing and Greg Gurule, Stuart Dyson at KOB-TV, Jessica Garate at Fox 2 and Larry Mohlenbrink at 770 KKOB-AM radio all picked up on our redistricting report, alerting the entire state of what's to come...
In the credit where credit is due department, it was the ABQ Journal, not the New Mexican, that reported in August 2004 on a contribution to Big Bill's Moving America Forward committee while the contract to provide that service in the state's private prisons was out to bid and, as a result, the governor had the contribution returned. The New Mexican recapped the story which we quoted on Wednesday's blog.
Email your latest news from the link at the top of the page and help keep the politics coming.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
Not for reproduction without permission of the author