Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Letter From Santa Fe: Touring The Roundhouse With A Grey Eminence Of La Politica And Taking The Measure Of Power In 2008, Plus: Guv Starts A Blog 

The Roundhouse 2008
A bitter cold enveloped the storied Roundhouse in Santa Fe Wednesday but inside a warm and easy fellowship held sway as day two of the thirty day session ticked off the legislative clock. This is a more pleasant time to visit than the final two days when everyone remembers they have to pass a budget and quickly get out of Dodge. Of course, if you have a dog in any of the legislative fights, you have to be there in those final frantic hours. But we were in a decidedly maƱana frame of mind. Once we passed the scrutiny of the state police in the Senate gallery, we spotted the dean of New Mexico's lobbyists and enlisted him as a guide to refresh us on the major nerve centers of capitol power and to ensure that we would end the day appropriately--in a dark bar surrounded by political alligators from far and wide.

Bob McBride is now 71 and started lobbying at the capitol in 1971. He's been around long enough not to care who he's seen with so he cheerily agreed to our request that he help renew our acquaintance with the power players of the day. He did hesitate for just a second, but with a promise of two martinis and a pack of Marlboros, the deal was sealed. Tim Jennings, here we come.

The new Senate President Pro Tem is a guy at ease in his own skin. And he's been around so long (since '79) he is as relaxed on the senate floor as a fella sprawled on his living room couch. We congratulated Jennings on his appointment as pro tem, but he brushed it off. "Yeah, but I wonder if I can keep it next year." He pondered. It's that political instinct that will likely keep the Roswell area rancher in his new driver's seat, as will his nonchalant attitude towards executive power. "There is a difference in the way we look at things," Jennings said in a nonthreatening drawl. No lashing out at Big Bill or personal pique. Just an understated, but poignant reminder of the independence the Senate has asserted in recent years and how it will continue in this session.

We missed Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez during our floor visit, but earlier, when the senate was in session, we eyed him chugging a soft drink and gently prancing around the chamber. There is an air of security and confidence in the Senate, drawn from years of service and institutional memory. With 42 members in the club, they see many of their own come and go, but the body goes on as it has for generations.

Sen. Lovejoy
Speaking of memory, it was ours that was momentarily impaired when we asked Senator Lynda Lovejoy of Crownpoint in the northwest if she had heard about her Democratic primary opponent, Michael Padilla of ABQ's South Valley. She and McBride both gave me a "Twilight Zone" look. It is Senator Linda Lopez who is getting a primary challenge from political newcomer Padilla. This Lynda is of the Navajo Nation and a former state House member as well as Public Regulation Commissioner.

Despite my attention deficit disorder, it was a treat to see Lovejoy who makes a striking appearance against the backdrop of the capitol hallways. If you had out of state visitors and were challenged to demonstrate the essence of New Mexican politics by introducing them to only three members of the Legislature, Lovejoy would have to be one of them. She is that much in this state's DNA.


From the Navajo Northwest, McBride steered us over to the cowboy corner of the floor, where Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales was holding forth with a small gaggle of fellow R's, including Vern Asbill of Carlsbad. I don't know if Ingle knew what I was about to ask, but he beat me to the punch, telling me how he felt things had gone "straight to hell" in Washington when CSPAN was allowed to telecast House and Senate proceedings. Hadn't I only the day before asked ABQ GOP Senator Mark Boitano via e-mail how his efforts were going to allow Webcasting of the Legislature? Indeed, I had. Did Ingle know that? Maybe, maybe not. It didn't matter. I had my answer. The senate is staying dark.

The chair of ABQ GOP Senator Joe Carraro was vacant as we chatted up Ingle, but he made a point of saying how he hoped Carraro, who has announced he is seeking the GOP nomination for the ABQ US House seat, is able to make the June ballot at the March preprimary convention. Carraro's major foe is Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White. Senator Domenici has endorsed White for the seat, but in the state senate loyalty matters and Ingle's pat on the back of Carraro was noteworthy. I was also glad he had brought it up because earlier in the day at my speech before the NM Association of Counties, I had failed to mention several congressional candidacies, including Carraro's. That promoted GOP State Senator "Lightning Rod" Adair of Roswell to file a report of my misdeed with his fellow lawmakers. You can always count on Rod to have your back.


The lobbyists are packed into the Roundhouse like bees in a hive. There seems to be more of them than ever, probably because our state is now nearly 2 million in population and with more business and government interests than in decades past. Still, ordinary citizens might cringe to see this swarm. Because of their ubiquity there is a proposal to have them wear name tags. All of them are as friendly as an old calico cat, and just as circumspect as to what is really going on in their politically obsessed minds. Thankfully, a few of them still do actually lean against the Roundhouse walls, giving truth to their description as "wall-leaners."

As we mentioned, McBride, representing tobacco interests, is the lobbyists' dean. Other veterans we spotted working the halls included Bob Barberousse, Scott Scanland and Luke Otero. We noticed that the land development firm SunCal is hiring eight--count 'em--eight lobbyists for this short session, including notables Robert Rivera and Dan Weaks. The company is looking for tax incentives for their big ABQ Westside development.

One thing the lobbyists are pleased about is that law that says state legislators can't solicit campaign contributions during the legislative session, but this year they are even more pleased that Big Bill is finally done hitting them up for cash for his gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. It appears to have little chance of passing, but if you asked the lobbyists how they felt about a bill sharply limiting the legal amount of campaign contributions, we imagine they would be unanimous in their support.

In The House
One issue the Santa Fe Alligators are not unanimous on is whether there will be a law allowing candidates who do not get sufficient delegate support at their party's preprimary convention to get on the ballot by submitting extra petition signatures. All eyes are on House Speaker Lujan whose son, Ben Ray Lujan, is seeking the northern congressional seat. It will take a two thirds vote for the law to take effect in time for this year's election. As I drove Paseo de Peralta into a setting sun, I wondered what the fallout would be if the ballot access measure passed, but with only a simple majority--not the two-thirds. That would mean it would take effect, but not until after this year's election. Do you think anyone has that kind of Movida in mind, or will the petition requirement, which could have a major impact on the outcome of the election, be reinstated without controversy?

The congressional races were the subject of some chatter in the capitol corridors Wednesday, One watcher reported that ABQ Dem House candidate Martin Heinrich has raised over $400,000 for his campaign with perhaps $300,000 cash on hand. Our insider also reported that Dem Michelle Lujan Grisham, also seeking the Dem nod for the ABQ US House seat, has raised about $125,000. The formal reports are due at the end of the month, but if these numbers are right both Heinrich and Grisham are going to be able to play. There were also rumblings about whether former NM Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron would get in the ABQ race and be the spoiler of Grisham's chances. Rebecca won the Dem nod years ago, but lost the general election. She might not be able to raise much money, but she could impact Grisham. In turn, ABQ attorney Bob Pidcock who has confirmed he is running, could give a headache to Heinrich. Again, who gets on the ballot will be huge.


We are out of time to tell you more of our adventures during our Santa Fe day trippin' but there is one tidbit we need to pass on--the Governor is going to blog. Or at least his staff is going to. Big Bill's "Governor's Office Blog" promises "behind-the-scenes info on current events." Check it out, but if it doesn't meet your expectations, you might want to give Bob McBride a call and see if he'll give you one of his customized capitol tours. That's as behind the scenes as it gets.

I'm Joe Monahan, writing to you today from Santa Fe. E-mail your news and comments.

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