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Monday, March 19, 2007

Big Bill's Special Session: A Shot In The Dark? Grumbling Lawmakers Could Cause Stir, Plus: An Iglesias Update, And: Fernando Trumps Pete & Heather 

There's plenty of back-channel grumbling by NM legislators in the wake of Big Bill's decision to call the 112 lawmakers into a special session beginning Tuesday. The question now is whether the Governor has his ducks in a row for a successful special, or whether he has taken an unnecessary gamble and is about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The first signs of trouble came as senate Dems caucused with just minutes left in the regular session when most were bleary eyed and exhausted from the nearly around-the-clock lawmaking of the past two days. Some mentioned personal or business plans that would now have to be put on hold, perhaps making them less friendly towards the Guv's special session agenda. Not only that, they argued that they had already passed much of what he had sent.

In private conversation several Democratic senators signaled their displeasure with the Governor who they say is trying to make the Legislature a campaign office for his 2008 presidential ambitions. The first public warning of trouble came from Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia of Las Cruces who told the Sun News: "He doesn't understand that the votes are not there, but he's going to spend the taxpayers' money to bring us back here."

Reached late Sunday, Garcia's tone had softened as she told me she is not saying there shouldn't be a special session, just that there is much work to be done to get the votes for the items on the Guv's special session agenda. She said she is fully supportive. On the other hand, Senator John Arthur Smith of Deming told the AP that "some members would not be receptive" to more time in Santa Fe.

Overall, the feeling in the political community was that the Governor and the Legislature had a good run, passing a hefty amount of legislation that is popular with the public and that a special session poses the risk of turning lemonade back into lemons.

A SPECIAL TRAIN WRECK?

Of special concern is that domestic partnership bill which died in the Senate and would have allowed heterosexual or homosexual couples to register their domestic partnerships with county clerks, securing all the rights of married couples. Governor Richardson says it will be on the special agenda. Will social conservatives rise up, pressuring lawmakers to kill the bill and causing special session gridlock? The critics said the bill takes the state too far to the left and is an effort by Richardson to secure gay Democratic Prez primary votes. They also claim he is looking for a couple of million in campaign contributions from the gay community.

They offered similar reasoning for his insistence on GRIP II, saying the road measure can wait a year, but, again, campaign money from contractors and developers beckons, an issue that arose in the final days of the regular session. The Guv's supporters label the assertion ludicrous, saying our wide-open roads must be attended too to keep our economy moving and that GRIP II also provides money for an important road for the Spaceport.

A couple of second-tier ethics bills passed the regular session, but not the biggie which would limit campaign contributions to $2300 for statewide candidates. Cynics fired away over the weekend, pointing out that it was none other than Big Bill who set the record for taking huge individual contributions--many over $75,000--and who can well-afford to support limiting such donations now that he is no longer going to run for statewide office. They also pointed out that Richardson did not voluntarily limit his contributions, despite facing no significant opposition and went on to raise $13 million for his '06 Guv run. In light of this they question his moral authority to harangue lawmakers for limits.

Among the arguments Richardson backers make is that all the politicians are guilty of using the campaign system for their own purposes and it's time for them to act together to clean it up.

Lingering resentment that the corruption of ex-Treasurers Vigil and Montoya was being laid at the desks of the legislators was also keeping this measure bottled up.

Also lingering is the question of how much Bill will be around to guide the special session. His detractors claim he could have gotten GRIP II and the rest of his other pet bills approved if he was not distracted by his national campaign.

THE LONG VIEW


The Governor's prez candidacy loomed large over the '07 session and because he did not veto lawmakers' capital outlay projects--they passed over $600 million worth--they accommodated him by passing bills with national sex appeal--a cockfighting ban, approval of medical marijuana and a renewable energy program--but his push for even more could make him look like the overweight guy who can't pull himself away from the dinner table. Also looming, but far from the Guv's mind, is the future. His long shot bid for the presidency could well be over by the next legislative session, leaving him a lame-duck Governor and a defeated presidential candidate to boot. What he has built can also be torn down.

Big Bill exclaimed that the session was the "most productive in state history." Maybe, but it was not a landmark session where we will look back at a particular piece of legislation and say that changed the state in a big way. Still, the Guv and the citizen legislators deserve credit for working well together. It would be too bad if the special session goes sour and ruins that memory.

DIGGING ON DAVID

They're digging deep on David Iglesias. The former NM U.S. attorney who shook the political scene with his charges that NM Senator Pete Domenici and ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson applied political pressure to get him to speed up certain federal indictments, is profiled in-depth in the Sunday New York Times. The ABQ Journal also comes with an Iglesias piece focusing on his critics.

The CBS Evening News did a lengthy interview with Iglesias Friday in which he answered one of the questions I've had. Did he know about Senator Domenici's ongoing efforts to get rid of him when Domenici called him in late October asking about those indictments? Iglesias tells CBS he was not aware of the skullduggery. The latest national developments on the scandal are here.

Rarely, if ever, have Wilson and Domenici had trouble with the local media, but Friday Domenici's staff would not permit him to be interviewed by KOAT-TV as he appeared at an awards dinner. What will he say next year to TV debates with his Democratic opponent? Meanwhile, Wilson has twice met the media recently to discuss issues, but each time they have turned the questioning to the U.S. attorney scandal. And the official investigations haven't even started yet.

FERNANDO'S TRIUMPH
Fernando
Was the re-election Sunday of Bernalillo County GOP Chairman Fernando C de Baca a sign that the hierarchy of the party---namely Domenici and Wilson--are starting to lose their grip? Some Republicans think so. The two Congressional representatives threw their considerable weight behind C de Baca's opponent, (People there report that Domenici staffers were on hand to vote against C de Baca. Wilson was public in her opposition to the incumbent chair) but came up short at the county central committee meeting. That gave rise to speculation that C de Baca just might renew his consideration of running for state chairman next month against another Wilson-Domenici favorite--current chair Allen Weh.

C de Baca, re-elected for a two year term, has not been an automatic ally of Domenici chief-of- staff Steve Bell, lawyer-lobbyist Mickey Barnett or GOP attorney Pat Rogers, all who have played prominent roles in GOP politics. Supporters of the independent C de Baca say R's here have the same problem as the R's in Washington--trying to keep power for the sake of power and rewarding a clique of consultants with contracts whether they are successful or not. Domenici and Wilson will need all the support they can muster for their re-elects next year. The C de Baca victory is a warning shot fired across their bow, and perhaps a sign that rank and file R's not attending the convention are also looking for the party to reform.

THE BOTTOM LINES

A funny sidelight to that GOP meeting Sunday was a letter going around that charged a staffer for C de Baca with leaking information to none other than your little ol' blog and how that was reason enough to oust Fernando. But now that Fernando has won, we welcome all heretofore wary and wannabe Republican leakers to come aboard. It might actually be good for your political career. Come on, Heather. Let's dish that dirt.

Heather, or anyone else, can email me from the link at the top of the page. We welcome your news and comments.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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