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Monday, July 30, 2007

Summer Rumblings: '08 Primary Challenges Weighed, Plus: Dem Director Update, And: Legislature Moves To Rein In Big Bill, Also: S. Fe Crime Wave Report 

We're starting to get the first rumblings of possible challengers to legislative incumbents in Primary '08. The most prominent so far is the northern NM seat held by Democratic Rep. Thomas Garcia. He was appointed by the Governor last year when Hector Balderas left the Roundhouse to become State Auditor. Now, a Garcia vs. Garcia primary appears to be shaping up. Word comes from the Mora area that Dem Paula Garcia, president of the NM Acequia Association, is a likely challenger.

The seat includes five counties. When Balderas left some of the five county commissions recommended to the Governor that Paula Garcia be appointed and several went with Thomas Garcia, then a top aide to Dem US Rep. Tom Udall. Big Bill went with Thomas, leaving Paula and her supporters in the environmental community perhaps a bit put out. If Paula takes the plunge this could be an interesting race for the D's come next June. It will be decided then, too. The district is solid D and no R's need apply.

DEM DIRECTOR UPDATE

The list of contenders for executive director of the NM Democratic Party has shrunk further with attorney Laura Sanchez checking in with the news that she is taking her name off of the finalist list. Sanchez, who was treasurer of Chairman Brian Colón's campaign for the party's top job, says she's decided to "take a different career path."

The Sanchez withdrawal has increased the chances that political operative Art Terrazas, Jr. of Anthony, NM could be named ED and that has some of the Alligators stirring. They are dissing Terrazas, son of a former controversial Dona Ana County commissioner, for heading up a Democrats for Pearce group in 2006. Pearce, of course, is Steve Pearce, the Republican congressman for the southern congressional district. They are also again pointing out that Terrazas was helpful to Colon in getting him elected party chair and wonder if giving Terrazas the ED position would be payback. Would it also signal that Colon is nurturing his own political ambitions for the 2010 Dem nomination for lieutenant governor?

Colón could quiet the waters by selecting a candidate from California who remains on the finalist list. GOP state Chairman Allen Weh went out of state this year when faced with an ED vacancy. Of course, Allen Weh isn't running for anything.

THE GORILLA AND THE SHEEP

Big Bill
It's not easy weighing in on the side of arguably the most powerful governor ever in his latest showdown with the Legislature, but we find ourselves with little sympathy for lawmakers who are beside themselves over Big Bill's line item veto of an education appropriation for the state's universities. They seem to be trying to turn it into a Constitutional crisis. In fact, if they take their (weak?) case to the Supremes they could lose, empowering future chief executives at the expense of the Legislature. That would weaken the Constitution (and legislative power) they claim to be defending.

Lawmakers argue that the Guv's veto of language directing repairs at the universities altered the Legislature's "intent" and it is they, not him, who have the power to authorize public spending. But couldn't they say that about any veto? The Legislature has plenty of tools to rein in a power hungry governor. They can override his vetoes while in session or they can call themselves into extraordinary session to override a veto as they did in the final year of Governor Johnson's term. They can also force compromise by refusing to pass bills the Governor sends them.

It appears the Legislature is finally waking up and realizing that what began as a 400 pound gorilla has been allowed, with their acquiescence, to grow into an 800 pound gorilla. But that's not all the gorilla's fault. The blame belongs to those who have been feeding him. Both Democrats and Republicans have been sucking up mountains of pork barrel projects funded by billions in state surplus while shivering at the mere thought that the Governor could take it away from them. Rather than mount significant opposition, they sold out for the money and find the chief executive taking advantage because he has amassed power at their expense.

The Legislature has ceded ground to a wily and hyper-ambitious Governor during this unprecedented period of prosperity in our state's history. Future Governors are unlikely to have such leverage, so why risk giving it to them by creating a needless and pseudo Constitutional crisis and running to the courts? How about legislators standing up and confronting the Governor on the field of political battle, instead of protecting their pork? Or do they need a lawyer for that, too?

THE FINAL THREE

One thing is becoming clear--the final three years of Big Bill's governorship are not going to be as easy as the first five. The Legislature's warning shot over the education money will likely be the first of many challenges as his lame-duck status takes hold and lawmakers finally muster the courage to take him on without fearing retribution at the ballot box. The election process can work to make even the faint-hearted brave. It's yet another ingenious example of those "checks and balances."

HERE SHE COMES?

We've been watching Heather Wilson like a hawk to see when she might become more like a dove when it comes to the no-end-in-sight Iraq war. Sunday we saw this news item.

"Settling Sunni-Shiite rivalries over who occupies what street in Baghdad is not in the vital interest of the United States," said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who said she is considering her options. "And we should only have Americans in harms' way where there are U.S. interests at stake."

The ABQ GOP Congresswoman, along with other under fire GOP US Reps, are going to try to reposition themselves on the unpopular war in time for the '08 election. Whether she will go far enough to satisfy an increasingly anti-war electorate remains to be seen.

CRIME WAVE COVERAGE
Kepler
Santa Fe Mayor David Coss earned some kudos for finally acknowledging in his recent state of the city address the seriousness of his city's crime wave, but his critics, citing more alarming headlines from the City Different, say he has a long way to go. Former city manger Asenath Kepler, who was ousted by Coss and the council, is among those now firing arrows from outside the tent. They are hitting the target.

We don't know what the real population is of Santa Fe because a large number of undocumented immigrants who live here aren't in any census. I have heard estimates of +/- 20,000. This impacts our staffing numbers for police...The mayor and councilors won't talk about it and have refused to have a public hearing on the crime problem.

If SF wants to be a "sanctuary city" it is going to have to pay for the services of those who come here and stop pretending we don't have any additional needs--just talk to some of the non-profit health providers in town to see how many undocumented people they are trying to serve for humanitarian reasons and how it is straining their resources...

These elected officials are living in fantasyland up here if they think they do not have to take a long hard look at the roots of the problem, not just the symptoms, and plan accordingly.


Kepler may have an ax to grind, but that doesn't mean her questions lack merit. Santa Fe blogger and science author George Johnson is also tracking the issue and sees it much as Kepler does.

"It's been almost a year now since the Council passed a $1.5 million property tax--half of what the mayor asked--to strengthen the police and fire departments. While the firefighters seem to have rebounded, there has been no real progress on the police staffing situation. For every officer hired another takes early retirement." Writes Johnson.

Mayor Coss has started to talk the talk, but will he and his city council walk the walk? Stay tuned.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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