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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Mystery Legislature: What Will Happen Is Anybody's Guess, Plus: Making The Ballot NM Style, And: Back On The Tribune Watch 

Anyone who says they can predict what is going to happen in the 30 day legislative session that kicks off in Santa Fe tomorrow is to be trusted about as much as a New Hampshire pollster. A reading of the weekend roundups in the state's major papers--the New Mexican, Journal and Sun-News--and chats with various insiders--offers few clues of what will finally emerge from the confab. For sure, we will get a state budget--that's the purpose of the short session. As for health care, the be-all, end-all issue for Big Bill this year, maybe we get a measure that provides coverage for more children, but a delay of the larger remake the Guv is proposing. But it really is anybody's guess. Actually, the most important issue for the 112 lawmakers gathered at the Roundhouse this year isn't health care, education or ethics reform--it is their own election bids. All of them are on the ballot in November. That's usually a recipe for a play it safe session.

POLITICOS AND PETITIONS

The big issue for the political insiders this session is whether the Legislature will pass a law to make it easier to get on the June primary ballot. Despite the recent public support of Big Bill and House Speaker Lujan, we wouldn't bet the hacienda on it passing. As things stand today, if a candidate fails to get 20% of the delegates at their party's March 15 pre-primary nominating convention, they don't get on the June ballot. If the law passes, they would be able to gather petition signatures to make it on.

The politicos (and us) are probably making a bigger deal of this than it is. If memory serves, no candidate in New Mexico history has gone on to win a primary race if he or she was rejected at a preprimary and forced to get on the ballot by using petitions. They might change the law to again allow the petition route, but we doubt if that history will be overturned.

GUNNING FOR LUJAN

The petition measure is backed by "progressive" Dems and is aimed squarely at Ben Ray Lujan, Dem candidate for the northern congressional seat and son of Speaker Lujan. Critics fear he will run away with the pre-primary and that perhaps only one other contender could get the 20% to make it on the June ballot. But friends of Lujan--including fellow Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks--tell me they they think the younger Lujan has a decided advantage whether there is one candidate or four or five. If the law is changed and he draws a bunch of opponents, the anti-Lujan vote, they argue, would be fractured. They think a one-on-one race is likely to feature Lujan and wealthy developer Don Wiviott. They see Lujan as the odds-on favorite in that battle given the demographics of the district.

Reinstating the petition requirement will take a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate in order for it to take effect this year. That could prove difficult. Also, could the measure be killed without much public outcry? Yes. For example, year after year the lawmakers fail to approve limits on campaign contributions. Process issues ignite the activists, not the public at large.

If the petition requirement were reinstated, would there be an impact on the Wilson-Pearce race for the GOP nod for the US senate? Could be. A fringe candidate could get on the ballot. If they were running to the right, they could hurt Pearce; to the left and they could harm Heather. Interesting scenario, isn't it? Former State Senator Tom Benavides is circulating petitions to get on the senate ballot, but politically he has been all over the map. Maybe he would take votes from Heather since he is from her stronghold of ABQ.

MORE CONGRESS

Former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman has joined the crowded GOP race for the southern congressional seat. He has been expected to get in and did so this weekend. Newman joins Ed Tinsley and Aubrey Dunn, Jr. as the GOP candidates with cash. Other contenders are Bob Cornelius and Earl Greer. This one is going to be wild.

TRIB UPDATE

We've been giving continuing coverage of the possible sale or closure of the ABQ Tribune and we have more for you today from a media Alligator tracking the action.

Scripps gave Trib employees the option to take their severance packages on Dec. 31. That option remains open; employees who stay until the end will get time-and-a-half. Previously, if you quit for another job you lost your severance, so a lot of people had kept their future plans on hold. There is no Jan. 31 deadline. Nothing is going to happen until there is either a sale or no sale. And keep in mind, there is a third party in these negotiations -- the Justice Department, which has to approve a deal and, at least theoretically, ensure that Scripps is making a good faith effort to sell.

Are they? Apparently Scripps will get to continue collecting on the ABQ Journal's profits, so are they eager to sell the Trib to someone who would almost certainly take it to the morning and compete, albeit as an underdog, with the Journal? The amount of time this is taking raises the suspicion that the negotiations are not going well."

ABQ PR firm DW Turner has talked about putting together a group of investors to buy the struggling afternoon paper. One of those not waiting to find out if the Trib sinks or swims is Kate Nash, the Tribune political writer who is now reporting for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

THAT'S NUEVO MEXICO, PLEASE

No wonder Big Bill couldn't get elected President. They thought he was running in Mexico, or at least the CPAN network recently did as you can see from this funny frame sent to our e-mail. Bill did a good job advertising our state, but apparently it will take another presidential run to get us fully on the CSPAN map. Bill in 2012, anyone?

Speaking of pictures, blog photog Mark Bralley calls his own blog "What's Wrong with this Picture?" Now you can check him out regularly from our list of permanent links at the top right of the page.

Come on Alligators! Keep us posted on the inside stuff at the legislative session and elsewhere. E-mail your news tips and comments,. Your anonymity is respected, unless you say otherwise.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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