Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006: It's A Wrap; Here Comes 2007; Do You See What I See? Plus: Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! 

2007 will have a hard time trumping 2006 for excitement, but there will be plenty to keep us interested. As always, it will be the unexpected turn of events that will make New Mexico politics the states #1 indoor sport. We have fond memories of old '06 (What an Election Night!) but for our final blog of this year, we point the compass toward the future because it's the possibility of what can be, not what was, that defines the spirit of New Mexico and the USA.

Suspense hangs in the air with the new year on our doorsteps. Will he or won't he? That's the question we will hear throughout 2007 about Senator Domenici and whether he will seek another six year term in '08. He says he will, but the politicos won't be convinced and believe Pete will assess the situation at the end of '07. His decision could very well be the most important of the year as retirement would set off an unpredictable chain of events.

Governor Big Bill will again keep us entertained in his inimitable and peripatetic style. Will his bid for the Dem prexy nomination survive the turbulent political waters of 2007? Does he have what it takes to play on the national stage? Will Lieutenant Governor Denish take on a higher profile here as Big Bill campaigns out-of-state?

In Santa Fe, a 60 day session of the Legislature awaits and with it the question of whether the huge and ongoing state surpluses are being spent in a way that is producing measurable results in improving our quality of life. Are they? Also, could '07 be the year when the party finally ends with falling, instead of soaring natural gas and oil prices?

Will the Governor and the Legislature become less enamored with "pork" projects and talk to us more directly about the long-term future of our education system, our stubborn poverty and other social problems? What can money do and what can't it do? Will any imaginative ideas emerge from our newly elected state House representatives? And will today's middle class New Mexicans get more tax relief and/or rebates from the billions in surplus that could make their lives more livable?


In 2007 we will see how Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) handles the new power that is his as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. We will also see how Rep. Heather Wilson handles being a member of the GOP minority in the U.S. House. It's the first time there for her. Can she make it a comfortable fit? The same for Rep. Steve Pearce who was climbing the GOP congressional ladder, but now faces a stall as the Democrats take over. And then there's that ugly war in Iraq. Voters sent a clear message to Wilson with her slim re-election win. Will she heed it? And if not, will there be consequences? Again, '07' will tell the tale.

Will new state Treasurer James Lewis and State Auditor Hector Balderas restore trust in how the state's billions are handled after a historic Treasurer scandal that blemished New Mexico's national reputation? Doing so would enhance the long-term business prospects of the state. More missteps or scandal would jeopardize the economic hopes of the next generation.

Will the new leadership at Los Alamos Labs stop the comedy of security errors and restore the prestige and dignity to what is supposed to be a world-class facility?

Will ABQ Mayor Chavez be able to advance his goal of more accountability and measurable results in the big city's school system, or will he be sidetracked by personality clashes or a focus on building buildings?


We live in a wonderful, almost fantasy-like environment in this Land of Enchantment. It is a gift that gives year round--the sunsets that make hearts soar; the mountains that inspire dreams; the never-ending landscapes that give a spiritual dimension to daily life. The contrast of this earthly perfection with our crazed, but beloved La Politica makes us that more inscrutable to the outside world.

New Mexico politics is also special because ancient customs collide with the contemporary. It's what makes our state so deliciously baffling and delightful and so pleasurable to talk with you about through this blog.

Thanks for joining me today and all the days of 2006. I look forward to more special times with you when we return in the new year. Until then, here is my annual holiday card to you and your loved ones.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Names Start Circulating To Replace U.S. Attorney, Plus: Vote Count Revealed In Speaker's Race; Lujan Said To Score Big 

U.S. Attorney Iglesias
David Iglesias is out as U.S. Attorney so who's in? Within hours of the news that Iglesias was headed for the exits, the legal community began surfacing names as possible replacements. Among those making the list: Santa Fe's Jim Bibb who lost his battle for NM attorney general to Gary King in November; Pat Rogers, an attorney with the ABQ Modrall firm and a longtime Republican party attorney; Paul Kennedy, a heavy hitting criminal lawyer with a background in GOP politics and maybe just for fun, the name of Pete Domenici Jr., son of NM GOP Senator Domenici, is also being tossed around.

There appeared to be little question as to why Iglesias, who is appointed by the President, is on his way out. His two prosecutions of the state treasurer scandal were widely criticized and resulted in Vigil being convicted on only one count. There were other high-profile cases that also left Iglesias's Justice Department bosses unhappy and led U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to pull the trigger on Iglesias.

There was another angle that surfaced too. That one had ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson egging on Justice to axe Iglesias. Was she unhappy with the Vigil prosecution that played a role in her campaign? Was she displeased that the U.S. attorney failed to come with indictments in the investigation of the construction of two Bernalillo county courthouses in time for her to use in her difficult re-election battle with Democrat Patsy Madrid? Those were the questions being posed in light of her rumored involvement in the Iglesias matter, coming as it did from reliable legal sources.

But it's Senator Domenici who has held the keys to the U.S. attorneys office whenever there is a GOP President and an appointment to be made. If Heather is unhappy, one presumes Pete is as well. The U.S. attorney is appointed by the president and does NOT require confirmation from the U.S. senate as we blogged early Tuesday. Domenici will have major input into who gets the position.

Since Iglesias is going to say on for several months, the speculators see that as meaning there is no obvious frontrunner to replace him. They also wondered who would want the job since it could be for less than two years. If a Dem is elected president in 08', you are out the door. But those concerns would be minor for someone with political ambitions, particularly the 35 year old Bibb.

As for Iglesias who came highly touted, some insiders say he simply lost interest in the position. He is expected to be around when the indictments in the courthouse investigation are announced, but not when any trials that result get underway.


Apparently the defeat of Kenny Martinez for state House speaker was worse than it first appeared,. Reliable sources who say they are not spinning for Speaker Lujan report that Martinez of Grants lost the speakership to Lujan in the House Democratic caucus Monday on a vote of 29-13.

We were told Monday it was at least a three vote win, possibly more. The caucus did not release the vote to the public. In gong over the caucus list with seasoned veterans, the 29-13 vote is entirely plausible and no one was moving to shoot it down as it circulated Tuesday.

The apparent rout of Martinez means Lujan is in an even stronger position as he organizes the committees of the House for the next legislative session and also detracts from the argument that he was "sent a message" by a significant number of the members. 29 votes translates into 70% of the caucus, a landslide by any measure.

The results again highlighted how far off the Martinez camp was in assessing opposition to Lujan and support for their man, or at at least how they were positioning him publicly. The first rule of politics is to learn how to count the votes. Martinez and company now have plenty of time to do that as Lujan continues to hold the reins on the most powerful position in the NM Legislature.

Gov. Apodaca
Here's a guy who has counted his share of votes. It's former NM Governor and former Dona Ana county state senator Jerry Apodaca. I snapped this pic while Jerry of Santa Fe was making the Christmas party rounds and drawing compliments from old and new friends on how well the 72 year old looks. "I've stopped running, but I still walk four or five times a week and quite a few miles," remarked Jerry who ran in and completed the fabled Boston Marathon while serving as governor back in the 1970's.

And from the present Governor, here is the official spin on his appointment of Herb Crosby, President and CEO of Avtec, Inc. in ABQ as the new Secretary of the NM Department of Labor:

“...Crosby knows what New Mexico is facing because he has been on the front lines of business recruitment and employee training efforts..Herb has also been extremely active in the local business community, helping him to understand the needs of small businesses as they recruit, and many times, struggle to find trained employees.”

African-American Crosby replaces outgoing Native American Labor Secretary Conroy Chino.


This has got to be our quote of the week. It's from the Boston Globe:

“I am at two percent -- for God sakes let me stay and answer some questions.”

At a New Hampshire house party Sunday, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson jokingly told his staffers to quit telling him he was late to the next event. Thus far, Richardson has gotten only single-digit support in his run for president among Granite State voters.

Another visit from us before we take a Holiday break, so come back again tomorrow and unwrap some more political presents.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Lion In Winter: Ben Lujan Freezes Out Martinez To Retain Power; Talk Over Rewards & Retaliation; We Go Indepth, And: U.S. Attorney Iglesias Is Out 

Mr. Speaker
A lion roared in Santa Fe Monday and the cubs were sent scurrying. 70 year old Ben Lujan quashed a rebellion led by State Representative Kenny Martinez to retain a firm grip on the speakership of the House. In doing so he strengthened the hand of the Governor, put in the deep freeze Martinez's long held ambition to lead the 70 member chamber as his father before him and set the stage for dispensing the rewards and punishment that belongs solely to the victor.

According to my Senior Alligators and wall-leaners who were calling the race for Lujan for several weeks, the Speaker appeared to garner at least 24 of the 42 House Democrats and maybe a couple more. Martinez retained his majority leader position, but the taste of defeat had to be bitter for the man from Grants who overstepped and claimed he had the votes and the "momentum" to win. It was a defining moment for Martinez and one that will be vividly recalled by future practitioners of the fine art of La Politica.


Even in the afterglow of the big victory the speaker continued to hold his cards close to his chest telling me in a phone interview from his Roundhouse inner sanctum that he has not made up his mind on the all-important committee assignments for the 60 day session that starts in mid-January.

"I have not given them much thought yet," Lujan coyly demurred as I pressed him on what awaits those who supported or opposed him.

Those close to the Speaker's lair were less hesitant.

"The Speaker will likely leave Kenny alone. You don't need to cut off the head of the snake, you can cut off its tail and weaken the head," a political player close to the action graphically analyzed.

For those uninitiated in this particular bloodsport, what that means is that the chief supporters of Martinez might be expected to pay the price for the failed campaign.

But you can look at it a more charitably. The Speaker no doubt made some commitments to secure re-election. Those supporters will have to be rewarded resulting in the punishment of those who bet wrong.

Not that anyone expects Lujan to run amok. After all, the Martinez forces did get a respectable number of votes and House unity is the ultimate goal for a Speaker, but some punishment will have to be extracted, or else it could encourage yet another run at the throne.

Rep. Martinez
"The meeting was dignified, somewhat lighthearted," a legislator told me following the mid-afternoon caucus at a committee room at the Capitol.

"Both Ben and Kenny gave rather lengthy speeches, mostly personal stuff about themselves. Ben might have spoke 20 minutes; Kenny 15. Some of the older guys who like to meet and vote seemed a little restless.

"We voted on a preprinted paper ballot, checking off the name of the candidate we wanted. The votes were taken out of the room and counted. The winner was announced, but no vote total. Kenny went over to Ben and hugged and congratulated him and the Speaker told us how deeply grateful he was for the support," reported our insider.

I asked the Speaker if he and Martinez had spoken privately after the election. He confirmed that Martinez congratulated him at the caucus, but said no meeting of substance took place. "We pledged to work together and advance the cause of the Democratic Party. We did appear before the media together after the caucus," Lujan said.

Martinez did not immediately return a call, but his supporters had plenty of spin, saying the challenge to Lujan did not jeopardize his future hopes to become speaker; that Lujan will have to be more sensitive to House members and that the Governor will be put on notice that not all in the House are pleased with the way he has exercised his power through Lujan.


There is some truth to that, but Lujan, as he did in my December 6 interview, was in no hurry to criticize the Governor or even admit that Big Bill had his hands too deep in the business of the House. In fact, he wandered away from the question to talk about "moving the House forward." (Wasn't that Big Bill's campaign slogan?)

As for Kenny, it is true that he is still the heir apparent to the speakership, but analysts said his loss opens the possibility of someone else emerging to compete for the position when Lujan finally retires. The good news for Martinez is that "someone" is not readily apparent, at least not yet.

Martinez's spinners also noted that as soon as he was defeated for speaker, he turned back a challenge for his majority leader position from ABQ Rep. Mimi Stewart, a Lujan ally. They said that shows he retains widespread popularity in the caucus.

But others pointed out it appeared that most, if not all, of the six freshmen members of the House may have gone to Lujan and that if Martinez is indeed the agent of change and representative of the next generation he has some work to do.

"One of the lessons in this is that Martinez needed to do more to get these guys elected. Ben was on the campaign trail working it hard and when they were elected, they owed him. It was a big reason he was re-elected," offered one seasoned observer.

Prior to the caucus five of the six freshmen had lunch together at a hang out near the Roundhouse. The gathering earned several double-takes from the old-timers who had to be wondering if the young bucks were cooking up any schemes like they used to.


As for Big Bill, who maintained he kept his hands off the speaker contest, Lujan's re-election assures him that peace and quiet will continue on the House side even as he deals with a spunkier state senate. Lujan has been especially close to this Governor. Both have taken hits over the relationship, but their mutual loyalty--their unwillingness to turn on one another--has cemented a bond that has resulted in the passage of the most significant legislation in the post WWII era. With Big Bill set to hit the Dem prez trail in earnest, Lujan's presence at the helm is reassuring for him and a safeguard against potential political embarrassments.

Predicting when Lujan will leave the House--he has served for over 30 years--is an unpredictable sport. The latest from the crystal ball readers is that he wants to stay on long enough to see his son, Ben Ray Jr., re-elected to the powerful Public Regulation Commission in 2008. That would keep the speakership in Lujan's hands until the 09' session and Martinez's hopes on hold until then. Still, Martinez would only be 50 years old and with many productive years ahead of him.


Martinez's "send a message" campaign could have worked if it had been billed as that and not as an all-out effort to unseat the sitting speaker.

"He was serious as a heart attack," one Martinez backer told me. And therein lies the problem. His inability to count the votes, or detect who was or wasn't telling the truth, made him take the race all the way to the wire when he could have cut it off and said he had just been "testing the waters" and spared himself defeat in the harsh statewide spotlight.

"It seemed he was determined to make a statement and that's why this went to a vote. Kenny takes a hit, but he also made a point," said a Martinez sympathizer.

The "point" being that the Governor was too involved in House affairs and that Lujan's ethics were in question. On the Guv he may have a point, but on ethics? Lujan backers retorted effectively that Martinez is the lawmaker who tried to bottle up DWI law by trying to have every car in the state equipped with a DWI interlock device even if the driver had never been convicted of DWI. They also argued that Martinez has not been subjected to as much scrutiny as Lujan and that no one in the game is pure as the driven snow.

The Martinez camp clearly overshot on the ethics issue, coming with an association Lujan had with controversial lobbyist Smiley Gallegos, but not much more.

The Speaker Monday was emphatic: "My conscience is clear. I have done nothing wrong," He declared.


Las Cruces area Rep. Joe Cervantes and ABQ Rep. Al Park were two of Martinez's closet allies in the failed takeover attempt. Cervantes planned to seek the majority leader spot, but bowed out Monday when Kenny needed to fall back to it after losing the speakership.

Cervantes has repeatedly made noise about running for a variety of state positions, but couldn't bring the Dona Ana county House delegation over to Martinez or his own candidacy and takes a hit over his ability to call the shots right in the political game. He was named chair of House Judiciary by Lujan, but bet with Kenny and will now pay the price. Friends of the rep say he is actually more interested in becoming a member of Congress than his tenure in the state House. The frustration he faces in Santa Fe could increase his Potomac fever.

Rep. Al Park, an attorney and judiciary member like Cervantes, also has some battle scars on his political hide today, but is young enough to ride out the remaining Lujan years or seek a statewide office. The defeat also offers Park the opportunity to try to make up with some of the old guard whose memories are long and whose list of young relatives is even longer.


Late word came from KRQE-TV Monday night that Republican U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has been forced out. He will leave the position after being asked to by the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, reported the TV station.

Iglesias's highest profile case was the two trials of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil on corruption charges. The feds have also been investigating the construction of two Bernalillo county courthouses. Indictments in that case are expected early in the new year.

A replacement for Iglesias will be named by the White House. Senior NM GOP Senator Domenici will have a say in who gets the job. More on this in the days ahead.

Thanks to photog Mark Bralley for today's feature photo of House Speaker Lujan, and thanks to you for tuning in.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Monday, December 18, 2006

BULLETIN: Ben Lujan Re-elected Speaker Of The NM House 

Ken Martinez, who challenged Lujan, will remain as House Majority Leader. Those results from reliable Capitol sources at the Dem caucus meeting in Santa Fe.

Ben Or Ken? NM Awaits Outcome Of Speaker Battle; Caucus Votes Today, Plus: Radio Thorn Removed From Big Bill's Side, And: Roswell Publisher Beck Dies 

The Roundhouse
Maybe when they select a state House speaker today they should send up a puff of white smoke like they do when they pick a new pope at the Vatican. On second thought, someone waving a white flag would probably be more appropriate to announce the winner of this highly personal and hard-fought battle for the second most powerful position in state government.

Optimists hold out hope for a peace pact until the final moments which will come at around 2:30 this afternoon at a Capitol room where the 42 Democratic members of the House will make a very personal decision and cast a vote for either incumbent House Speaker Ben Lujan or his challenger, Rep. Kenny Martinez of Grants.

(Tomas Garcia is the newest Dem House member, getting appointed by the Guv this morning to fill the seat being vacated by State Auditor-elect Hector Balderas. Insiders say he is an ally of Lujan’s.)

Both sides are spinning that they have the votes for victory. The Capitol wall-leaners, not wanting to alienate either side, were staying away from the race like it had been sprayed by a skunk. The little "conventional wisdom" that could be gathered had Lujan winning, but Martinez keeping close enough that he did not want to fold his hand. The incumbent in any race almost always has the edge and this one is no exception, but an upset would not be a complete shocker.

The ABQ Journal weighed in on the race by slapping on the front page of Sunday's paper a story that recapped an earlier report, but broke no new ground on the Speaker's association with controversial lobbyist Smiley Gallegos. The Martinez camp has made ethics a major part of their pitch to dump the 70 year old Lujan, but Lujan has been around for more than 30 years and his backers said the Journal's slam could actually harden votes for Lujan as the paper and Martinez are trying to frame the race as an ethics battle when it is really more about power and politics.

The Martinez camp is hoping today's secret ballot in which a name is checked off and there is no handwriting evidence will help Kenny get to the magic number of 22. If not, he is expected to stay on as majority leader and live to fight another day.

Here's an interesting sidelight: The vote for speaker will take place after a morning ethics training session to which all members of the House have been invited. One hopes there are not too many empty seats.


One of the least appealing aspects of this battle has been hearing the reports of how a few lawmakers were pledging their support to both sides, making a solid count of votes like trying to nail jello to the wall. I know. Everyone wants their slice of pork and their favored committee slot. Still, the sight of lawmakers cowering in a corner afraid to state their preference publicly if asked isn't exactly inspiring.

The irony of this intraparty fight is lost on no one, coming as it does after a national Democratic sweep, a historic landslide for the party in the Guv's race as well as a huge U.S. Senate win along with no losses in their state House majority. What worries Democrats outside of the caucus is a damaging aftermath which is why many are still hoping that someone will blink before the vote and in the name of "unity" withdraw.

A win by either Martinez or Lujan is not going to change the direction of the state--both can be classified as moderate to liberal Democrats--but if the loser and his supporters are bitter and a divided House results, making legislative progress could become more difficult for the lawmakers and the Governor. However, the lobbyists could have a field day feeding off all the factionalism.

Stay tuned. We'll post the outcome of the race (and the majority leader post too) right here as soon as it is known.


Bob Clark
Big Bill and company should be wearing smiles and the state GOP some frowns over the news that the state's largest radio station, 770 KKOB-AM, has ensconced a new morning man whose political views don't match those of Pat Frisch, the conservative morning talker who for the past two years has henpecked the Guv on almost a daily basis. The relationship had deteriorated to the point that Richardson avoided appearing on the show. That should change as the new morning voice at the 50,000 watt news/talker is Bob Clark, an old friend of Big Bill spokesman Pahl Shipley and who tells me has voted for the Guv in the past two elections.

"I am a middle of the road voice. When it comes to issues related to the family you will find me more conservative as I have two young daughters," Clark told me. He was quick to add that he will not be an automatic Big Bill booster either, but the ongoing war Frisch conducted against the Fourth Floor is over. (Pat remains at the station as program director, says he is glad to be rid of the 4 a.m. wake-up call and will sit in when Clark takes time off.)

Clark, 44, is a veteran of the mid-sized ABQ market (#70 in the nation) having worked as a news reporter for KOB-TV and later joining KKOB radio as a sports reporter and talk host.

"I am a political junkie, but the show will cover a variety of topics to appeal to a wide audience," Clark explained as he prepared for his first show today.


KKOB, while still ranked number one among listeners 12 plus in the ABQ market, has lost some oomph in the last year, losing nearly 30% of its listeners and now garnering about a 7% share of the radio audience versus a nearly 10% share in 05'.

Radio experts tell me the reasons include a more competitive media environment with the Internet and morning TV news, a lack of outside promotion of the station, a too hard-right approach in the morning when a wider audience is tuned in and a modification in the way the ratings company measures audience.

Clark will try to restore the morning slot to the #1 position and also lower the average age of the listenership. That's another longtime concern of the ad agencies which have been scooping up air time on the morning show as well as the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity programs that follow, but nonetheless express concern about a too old audience and a too conservative outlook as the nation moves to the political center.

Clark, a fast-talking native Pennsylvanian, may have a good shot at turning it around. He knows the key political players and says his morning show will not be about political parties. "It's about the issues. I am going to champion the issues I believe in and praise and criticize depending on a politician's stand on that issue, not what political party they belong to."


Longtime Roswell Daily Record publisher and owner Cory Beck died in Las Cruces over the weekend. He apparently suffered a heart problem during dinner and collapsed. Beck was a fixture in Chaves county and most recently made statewide news when his conservative newspaper endorsed Democrat Big Bill for re-election. Beck, 53, was in the thick of things in Chaves where Republicans are riddled with factions and emotions often run high. He was known for his fairness and was one of the few remaining individual owners of a state newspaper.

Email me your latest political news from the link at the top of the page and also your reaction later today to the outcome of the Speaker's race. I will try to post some of them tomorrow.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author
website design by limwebdesign