Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Lab Grab: Pete Pulls Out A Win, But Is It A Lasting One? Plus: Another NM Journalist Goes To The "Dark Side," And: Cop Says Rep. Foley Spat At Him 

Sen. Pete
God only knows what Pete Domenici had to promise to bring Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs back from the brink of big budget cuts and lost jobs, at least temporarily. Was it a prized collection of bocce balls? (It's an Italian thing.) Not that New Mexicans were surprised when the news broke late Tuesday that a key senate subcommittee had reinstated all the LANL money stripped out by the House. After all, Domenici's love affair with the labs is second only to the one with his wife Nancy and goes back to 1973, his first year in the exalted chamber. If the full senate eventually goes along with Pete, the labs will be in better shape when a final budget is hammered out at a House-Senate conference committee. That defies the conventional wisdom and could give Domenici, 75, a badly needed political pop after what has been his worst year ever in public service, haunted as he has been by the US attorney scandal, speculation about his health woes and whether he is truly serious about seeking a history making seventh term.

But the deal is not done and Domenici, while celebrating with reporters in his usual self-congratulatory style, also worked to lower expectations saying, "let's be realistic." The House approved those budget cuts 312-121 and can be expected to demand their pound of flesh, fed up to the gills as they are with the repeated security lapses and pampered budgets of the past for the boys on "The Hill."

"If the labs end up taking a cut of $50 or $100 million from current levels, that will be a pretty good outcome," offered a veteran Alligator who has direct experience with House-Senate compromise sessions.

But Domenici appears to have the rabbit half way out of the hat. Did the Republican White House help Pete persuade Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), chairman of the subcommittee, to lighten up in exchange for some "favors?" And even though Dem NM Senator Jeff Bingaman was his usual out-of-sight persona, the speculators said the chairman of the Energy Committee probably deserves a dollop of credit, even as he warned to still expect some cuts. But will it ultimately be credit or blame that Pete and Jeff earn? Tuesday looked like a good day, but there are many more dawns to come before the budget is finalized and it is assured that a long sunset has not begun over the fabled laboratories of Los Alamos.

Kate Nelson
The journey to the "Dark Side" by New Mexico's journalists continued Tuesday with the news that ABQ Tribune managing editor Kate Nelson will give up her sometimes acerbic questioning of the state's top politicians and go to work for one of them. Nelson was named communications director for Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, replacing Michael Henningsen, the former editor of the weekly Alibi who has taken the PR post at the state economic development department. Nelson is one of at least several dozen scribes and broadcasters lured to the Big Bill and Diane show over the past four years, showcasing the long hours and low pay that plague the profession as reporters find refuge in the government they once ardently watchdogged.

In Nelson's case, the effort to fight declining circulation at the still well-written afternoon daily was to no avail as the paper threatens to plunge below 10,000 subscribers. (It was at about 11,000 at the end of September '06.) In the Trib's sunnier days, Nelson reached a broader audience with a regular political column and gained fame for coining the moniker "Saint Pete" for NM GOP Senator Pete Domenici.

Nelson, an unabashed liberal who spent 18 years at the Trib, will bring a sharper edge to Lady Di's press as she continues her drive for the governorship in 2010, or earlier, depending on what happens with Big Bill. Whether spinning for a politico will be as professionally gratifying for Nelson as skewering one is an open question, but it will be more financially rewarding. The Kansas City, MO native's salary has not been disclosed, but insiders estimate the job will pay somewhere in the $70's, more than Nelson's newspaper salary which media insiders peg at around $60,000. That should be enough to buy whatever it takes to wash her hands of decades-old ink stains.


Rep. Foley
More details on the arrest and jailing of Roswell GOP State Rep. Dan Foley, and it is not good for the House minority whip. The police report of Foley's Sunday arrest says the lawmaker spit chewing tobacco at a police officer, screamed profanities at the basketball coach in which Foley's 14 year old son was a player and threatened the arresting cops with the loss of their jobs. Foley has said he would again intervene in his son's basketball game because his son was being abused on the court. Foley will stand trial August 2nd. The Foley photo posted here is from the Roswell Record and shows the tobacco stains on the legislator's shirt that allegedly resulted when he spat at the officer.

In detailing the police report, the Record also revisits the many past explosions of temper by Foley who has served in the Legislature since 1999. It is a grim read and if combined with the mug shot provides a powerful piece of campaign literature. Foley has escaped serious challenges in his Chaves county district. Opponents have not been able to muster a competent foe. This latest incident of bad-boy behavior has stirred his rivals who are again seeking a challenger for next year's GOP primary.

As they should, the NM GOP has been quick to hit Dems over ethics violations, priding themselves on being the "law and order" party, but they have gone eerily silent on Foley's allegedly violent outburst and his threats to law enforcement. Will voters continue to do the same? Stay tuned.

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