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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Big Bill Serves Up The Leftovers And A New Recipe Or Two; 59 Days To Dine; In-Depth Blog Coverage, Plus: Two Takes On Rio Rancho's Mayor 

For Big Bill Legislature '07 is the "Better Late Than Never" session as he served up a heaping plate of leftovers to the 112 lawmakers gathered at the fabled Roundhouse for the start of a 60 day legislative session. Not that there wasn't plenty of meat and potatoes on the plate, but the absence of any really flashy proposals in the annual State-of-the-State address left the impression that the Guv is looking to close out his last session before the start of his presidential campaign safely and without a last minute coming apart at the seams that spoiled his outing last year. (Complete video is here.)

But what is leftovers around here may look like nouvelle cuisine when passed around the dinner tables of the early Prez primary states of Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. For example, asking for a statewide minimum wage was the first issue he hit in the 37 minute speech, underscoring its importance to progressive Democratic voters who have an outsized say in the Prez nomination process. The emphasis on "renewable energy," calling again for an authority that would have the state exporting solar and wind power, (some enviros fear nuclear and coal too) is another calling card he would like to present to primary participants.

With the presidential campaign hanging thick in the thin mountain air of the City Different, the speech could have been seen as overtly political, but the Guv pointed to the elephant in the room early. "Regardless of any future political plans I may have, my priority will be a successful legislative session," He declared. More important to getting his agenda through, the Governor reminded the state of his historic re-election win in which he garnered 69% of the vote. That's power.

CONTEXT, ANALYSIS & PERSPECTIVE

The issues Big Bill addressed are of intrinsic importance to the state, not just a national campaign. His fight for the minimum wage is taking on symbolic importance--can New Mexico begin to shed the low-wage mentality that has forced many of its best and brightest to flee its borders? Can the blood sport of cockfighting be banned and DWI made scarce thus upending deep-seated and destructive cultural patterns? The proposed expansion of state health insurance coverage and Medicaid in a state with one of the highest levels of uninsured addresses the stubborn poverty that has resisted several waves of national economic expansion.

The chief executive might be accused of some pandering as he advocated eliminating the state income tax for military personnel, but announced smaller and more targeted relief for other New Mexicans. Earlier in his term he won passage of increased state aid for National Guardsmen purchasing life insurance policies. Big Bill has no military background. Is that something on his mind as he looks ahead to the national stage?

A sidelight to the speech was the Guv's lack of boasting of success in the quality and performance of the state's public schools. The latest news on that front has not been welcome. Despite hundreds of millions spent on them from the ongoing energy surplus, there is a gnawing worry that the cash for the schools, as well as higher teacher salaries, is not yet bringing significant improvement. But the Guv's team maintains it is still too early to fully measure the money's impact and that new accountability standards are a future bright spot.

The Guv's legislative package is not low lying fruit which is why he's back for round two for much of it, but with pre-session romance sessions with a host of lawmakers, chances for approval look good.

THE COSMETICS

The Governor looked fit. Several emailers asked if he has had liposuction, startled as they were by his less lumpy demeanor. He has disclosed he has been on a diet, and while still sporting an ample girth, the gubernatorial presence fit more comfortably on the TV screen. The hair is also finally tamed and the wardrobe--pinstriped gray suit with a solid red tie and white shirt--is more uptown than past sartorial efforts. The obsession on personal appearance can not be one of his favorite aspects of being a politician, but in the TV/Internet age it is paramount, and in a presidential candidate it is imperative.

STYLE POINTS

The speech itself shied away from flowery language. Soaring to new rhetorical heights is not one of Big Bill's strengths. He is a pragmatic, centrist politician and the talk, largely written by staffers Allan Oliver and Gilbert Gallegos, let him be himself. The Guv does have a habit of lapsing into a boyish grin, especially when it seems he is not convinced of the copy he is reading. But he does have the good sense to laugh at himself when he stumbles. His style has improved in recent years. He's less plodding, more practiced and no longer comes across as an old style party boss. He's more conversational. Is he ready for national prime time? Yes. Can he improve? Yes.

MEDIA WATCH

The Internet continues to come of age for the big news events. Tuesday's State-of-the State was streamed over the Governor's Web site and KOB-TV's. Both went off without a hitch. KOB and public outlet KNME-TV also broadcast the speech live. The speech was one of the latest starting legislative openers in years. The Guv did not take to the podium until 1:23 p.m. KOB gamely stayed on the air past their 1 p.m. news and filled for 23 minutes with reports from the capital and weather. They deserve credit for interrupting the soaps, but couldn't they have found some guests to do some analysis while we all waited?

THE JACKSON REVIEWS
Mayor Jackson
It must depend on who you ask when it comes to the job performance of Kevin Jackson, mayor of Rio Rancho which is now the third largest city in the state. The ABQ Journal sent him a love note, rhapsodizing on how he gets along with other government officials. But the Rio Rancho observer, in a hard-hitting piece, inches in on traditional Journal territory and questions the Republican mayor's handling of the recent firing of the city manager, pointing out there may have been a violation of the state's open meetings act. We weighed in by reporting on the media kissy-kissy the GOP mayor had with Congresswoman Heather Wilson over cleaning up the big snowstorm, even though Dem Rep. Tom Udall represents the vast majority of the city.

Jackson has been in office just eight months and will likely find his bearings, but with Rio Rancho pushing the 70,000 population mark in a state of two million, the scrutiny is more intense and the expectations more than the old days, at least in some quarters.

Email your news and comments from the link at the top of the page. Thanks to Mark Bralley for today's photos of the State of the State and to you for making us part of your day.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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