Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Big Bill: Four More Years Or Only Two? Plus: The "Mini-Katrina;" State Snowstorm Response Faulted, And: On The Media Beat; Storm Tests Their Mettle
Will it be four more years or just two? That's the question that hung in the still and frigid air of America's oldest capital city New Year's Day as Big Bill took the oath of office for a second four year gubernatorial term. Shortly, he will take the first steps toward a presidential bid. It's a longshot, but stranger things have happened. And even if he falters on the Prez trail, there is the possibility of the Veep slot on the Dem ticket. If he doesn't make the top two, there is the prospect of a cabinet post if the D's capture the White House in 08'. These options could potentially leave the governorship in the hands of Light Guv Diane Denish and with a decided advantage of winning a term of her own in 2010. But she's surely too busy to be thinking about that? Not.
(The Guv's complete inaugural address is here.)
While Big Bill has mastered the New Mexican electorate and Legislature in unprecedented fashion, his inability to hold sway over the state bureaucracy rose up and bit him as hundreds of travelers were stranded over the holiday weekend on Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque, many of them for several days. It wasn't exactly Big Bill's Katrina, but state government response to the snow disaster, critics claimed, had some disturbing parallels to that of the Bush administration's inadequate handling of the New Orleans hurricane.
No question the Guv was right when he noted the storm dumped an unprecedented amount of snow, but the white stuff stopped falling Saturday, yet the vital interstate link remained closed all day Sunday forcing motorists, many with young families in tow, to turn off their engines and therefore their car heaters to preserve fuel while they awaited help or a reopening of the interstate, both of which were slow in coming.
In a statement somewhat reminiscent of the feds Katrina response, NM Homeland Security Director Tim Manning said: "It takes a bit of time to clear out 20 miles of stopped cars."
That had the Alligators on their two legs, asking why we have a nicely funded homeland security office if it is simply going to tell us the obvious and not improve response time?
WELCOME TO LA POLITICA, CHIEF
The new state police chief, Faron Segotta, also received his first taste of the heat of La Politica as the critics hammered his agency for first opening the freeway than closing it and then taking more hits, along with the Highway Department and the Governor, for not doing enough to help the stranded motorists who were growing more fearful and furious with each passing hour. Fortunately, there were no lives lost. Finally at 10 p.m. New Year's Eve, the interstate was given the all-clear.
It wasn't the first time the state cops have come under the gun for their handling of the roads. Several years ago they were faulted for closing the interstate too often during several bouts of snow. Apparently there are still lessons to be learned. Since the entire economy of the USA is impacted by the interstate in question, the chief, the Governor and his homeland security honcho may want to give that some thought.
Big Bill said he would make a "major assessment" of the emergency response, but maintained "we were well-prepared." Maybe. Maybe not. When you are seeking the nation's highest office in a nomination contest that will be decided just 13 months from now, the stakes get higher. And so do the expectations.
BILL'S LABOR PAINS
Another end of year stumble marred what was otherwise a cheery 2006 for Big Bill. His choice to replace Conroy Chino as state labor secretary, Herb Crosby, had to drop out for "personal and business" commitments. He has been replaced by Betty Sparrow, one of the Guv's recent appointees to the agency. It was another reminder that the "vetting" process for appointees in the administration has been an ongoing issue, one that could pop up on the national campaign trail if our chief executive starts to make a serious move.
MEDIA WATCH: THE BIG STORM
It was one of the the wildest weather weekends ever for much of New Mexico, with even New Mexicans unaffected by the historic storm gripped by the ongoing drama. If they turned to the major network TV affiliates out of ABQ, they were inundated with storm info and some pretty solid reporting. If they tried radio, forget it. That medium demonstrated why it's in trouble as the weekend storm basically went uncovered and the sports, commercials and intermittent music rolled on, even as ABQ tried to recover from Friday's biggest single day snow fall (nearly a foot) ever.
In a time when the appetite for news was downright ravenous, the ABQ Journal was unable to delver the goods for two days running as icy streets thwarted their best efforts. They were able to post updates on their Web site, but even that wasn't foolproof as Comcast cable, a big net provider, was unable to provide service to many of their cable TV and Internet subscribers. Is management there taking a look at that fiasco?
As usual, the giant electric company, PNM, did well in the emergency management department, perhaps because they have been doing it for close to a hundred years. They slowly but surely restored power to homes deprived of electricity by the fierce storm and hit the right tone in reassuring the public. Still, over a thousand ABQ and surrounding area homes remained without power Monday, testing the resources of the monopoly utility.
But it was local TV news, often derided, and fairly so, for its inane crime coverage, that vindicated itself best as the weather presented them with a rare opportunity to showcase the public service components of their federally licensed money machines.
I am told that the weather casters blew this one by not predicting its strength, but they made up for it in the subsequent solid coverage as they and the news departments covered this one, well, like a wet blanket.
From the "crawls" at the bottom of the screen to the spot news reporting, it was reinforced that television is still the go to medium in times of crisis, even in the Internet age. (KOB-TV's Web site remains the ABQ market leader, posting breaking news faster and more often than its rivals.) One is heartened by the stations' performance, but left wondering why we can't see the same zest and enthusiasm applied to the coverage of more mundane, but equally important political and social issues. I know. Those pictures don't get ratings.
MY BOTTOM LINES
In year-end recaps of Big Bill's first term, the AP reports he received 69 percent of the vote in the November election, while the ABQ Journal records it at 68 percent. Who's right? The Guv, according to the final election canvass, polled 68.8 percent, the largest winning margin ever. The AP rounds it up to 69 percent, the usual practice. Whether you give him 69 or 68, he has plenty of political capital to burn...
Send me your latest political news from the link at the top of the page and help us cover the new year in NM politics.. You can remain anonyomous; just not uninformed. Thanks for being here. Back at ya' tomorrow.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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