Tuesday, January 16, 2007
"The Presidential Session" Kicks Off And Another Big Cookie Jar Awaits; We Have Your Legislative Preview, Plus: More On U.S. Attorney For NM
It’s likely that the 60 day NM legislative session kicking off at high noon today will be remembered more for Big Bill's announcement that he plans to seek the '08 Dem Prez nod, rather than for any accomplishments in lawmaking. It would be even bigger news if the Guv turned away from a Prez run, a possibility that KRQE-TV's Deanna Sauceda raised with me in a pre-session interview. "How do we know for sure?" She queried. Well, it's not as guaranteed as death and taxes, but it ranks right up there.
As for the session, the agenda sent down by the Governor reads like a presidential platform, not that the Democratic dominated Roundhouse is in major disagreement on his priorities which, if accepted, will mean a whopping 11 percent increase in the state budget. Has there ever been a luckier Governor? It's year after year of huge surpluses brought about by the bull market in oil and natural gas prices. And the Guv wants more emphasis on "renewable energy?" Sure, just not while he's warming the big chair on the Fourth Floor.
After four years of unheard of spending, Mr.& Mrs. New Mexico are starting to ask: "Show me the results." On Election Night on KANW 89.1 FM, State Senator James Taylor (D-Bernalillo) and I had a vigorous discussion on accountability, with Taylor arguing the Legislature is indeed holding the bureaucracy's feet to the fire. But I parted company with him and have since found an ally in Santa Fe State Rep. and Legislative Finance Committee Chairman Lucky Varela who says it is high time agencies coming back for double digit increases show how they are meeting performance standards and, if not, why not? Hey, isn't that the least we can ask from a $5.7 billion budget?
Off the budget, there will be plenty of entertainment in the next two months, including the usual sideshow on cockfighting. And what do you know? A statewide ban may just have a chance this time. With Bill not wanting a reputation as an animal hater as he wades through the cornfields of Iowa, the pressure is on for a deal.
State Senator Phil Griego is your key player. As new chair of the Conservation Committee, he can kill the deal and has notched up the rhetoric against a state cockfighting ban. (Many counties already outlaw the fights.) But some Alligators see that as a ploy to satisfy the segment of his constituency that still enjoys the blood sport, while behind-the-scenes Phil cuts a deal with his buddy Big Bill. And he is his buddy. Remember a few years back when Bill went North with Phil and introduced him as "the next majority leader?"
Well, Big Bill was premature on that one and so were the pundits. Michael Sanchez of Belen became your senate leader, not Phil. But the ardor between the Guv and Griego has not cooled and the smart money, if not betting that a cockfighting ban will win, are lowering the odds on its defeat.
Same story for the minimum wage which went down in flames in the final moments of Legislature '06 as southern Dem conservative senators rebelled. Probably not this time, not with an "agricultural exemption" carved into the bill. And there's momentum, with both ABQ and Santa Fe having minimums and the U.S. House just passing a bill. The vast majority of Dem lawmakers should want on that bandwagon for their '08 re-elections.
AND THE R'S?
What about those perennially out-of-power Republicans, you ask? Well, they have a new House leader, Rep. Tom Taylor of Farmington, who they've combined with Roswell firebrand Dan Foley as Minority Whip. Taylor is well-regarded (I liked his comments on KOB-TV Monday night about keeping the R's in the "middle-of-the-road.") and this corner has always felt Foley has the potential for gravitas, but has been overcome by emotional fervor and by being too darn conservative for a diverse state like ours. It gets you elected in Cowboy Country, but the big stage demands the moderate approach.
The R's missed an opportunity by not making more pre-legislative noise. They've been criticized for joining the Dems in pigging out on the pork. But with the public mood subtly changing for accountability, they have another opportunity to make themselves relevant. For now, its the fiscally conservative senate Dems, who have taken on what is traditionally the Republican role.
The House Democratic powerhouses, Speaker Ben Lujan of Santa Fe and Majority Leader Kenny Martinez of Grants, have a relationship as frosty as our unusually cold January weather, but Lujan's impressive December victory over Martinez's challenge for the speaker's gavel puts to rest any further talk of coups, if not some quiet retribution (and rewarding) by Lujan. All in all, good news for the Guv who might want to give Lujan a chapter in the book he writes about his governorship. He might call it: "The Right-Hand Man."
STATE OF THE STATE
Many of you are government employees and are discouraged from indulging in our beloved La Politica at your workplace, but we don't think your superiors, especially if you are a state employee, will mind if you jump to the Internet about 12:30 p.m today to take in Big Bill's State of the State address live from Santa Fe. Besides, it's probably your lunch hour.
ON THE FED FRONT
It's not just NM U.S. attorney David Iglesias getting the ax from the White House with an assist from our GOP congressional reps. Others around the country were also let go after the November election. The U.S. attorney vacancy in Arkansas has been filled by the White House on an "interim basis" which avoids for now the necessary Senate confirmation. That's raising the temperature of the New York Times, among others, who say the new appointee is an "extreme political partisan" and the Prez is avoiding the senate.
All this has to set off alarm bells in the camp of Jim Bibb, the unsuccessful GOP candidate for attorney general who made Senator Domenici's list for our U.S. attorney slot. Of the three left on that list, he is the only politician.
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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