Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Big Bill's Big Day: Obama Picks Him For Commerce; Who Will Outgoing Guv Take With Him? Plus: Senate Power Plays; Who Could Be The "Jennings Seven"? 

The curtain will begin to come down on one of the most powerful governorships in New Mexican history this morning at 9:40 our time when President-elect Obama makes official at a Chicago news conference what has been expected for weeks--Governor Bill Richardson will be nominated to become the next Secretary of Commerce. No major stumbling blocks are expected in Big Bill's US Senate confirmation hearings. He could vacate his office in Santa Fe and occupy his new digs in Washington as soon as Obama is sworn in January 20. (Former UNM Prexy Louis Caldera beat Bill to the punch Tuesday. The former army secretary was named by Obama as director of the White House Military Office.)

It is a good time for Bill to leave. His six year run has been greased with what will be recalled as legendary amounts of tax money from the epic bull market that occurred in oil and natural gas prices during his tenure which started in 2003. But the energy bull turned to a bear this year, and in a remarkable coincidence of timing, Richardson is getting out just as the state wrestles with a projected budget deficit of up to $500 million. Add on top of that an ornery Legislature that has had enough of Big Bill's sometimes bullying ways and his departure is engulfed in serendipity.

The Guv will be long-remembered for rewarding hundreds of campaign supporters with state jobs, contracts and other goodies. The giving is about to come to an abrupt end. One of our probing Alligators reports Richardson will have ten, maybe 20 jobs to fill, as Commerce Secretary. There are many more jobs available there for political appointees, but the White House has friends it will be rewarding. If you are looking to follow Bill to D.C., here is a list of jobs that can be filled at Commerce directly by political appointment.

And who from NM will travel east with the Guv? Our wall-leaners say current Guv Chief of Staff Brian Condit is a good bet to go as is former Guv chief of staff and longtime Bill political aide Dave Contarino. He is a native of the east and could welcome the opportunity to get back near his roots. Longtime friend of Bill and current head of the state taxation department, Rick Homans, is another who may be packing a suitcase. There are several press related jobs available for Bill to fill at Commerce. Gilbert Gallegos, one of the Guv's chief press aides and a former reporter for the ABQ Tribune, might go for one of those.

But don't expect a rush for those Commerce posts from here. Politicos already settled in with good salaries aren't anxious to give up the New Mexico lifestyle and exchange crystal blue skies for dank gray ones or listen to the ripples of the Potomac when the Rio Grande beckons.


When the time comes, we believe all Big Bill has to do to resign the office of Governor is to submit a letter of resignation to the Secretary of State. The Lieutenant Governor would then automatically become Governor. The NM Constitution says: If...a vacancy occurs in the office of governor, the lieutenant governor shall succeed to that office, and to all the powers, duties and emoluments thereof...

We're not sure if Lady Di would have to take an oath since as Light Guv she automatically becomes Guv. Maybe the Legal Beagles can e-mail us on that. But we're sure she will want a swearing-in ceremony to drive the point home to New Mexicans that they have a new governor.

How to quell a possible Senate uprising that would have renegade Democrat Tim Jennings retain his president pro tem position by forming a collation with GOP Senators? That's the hot political potato on the plate of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. The Dem caucus voted to back Sen. Carlos Cisneros for the post Sunday, but the ousted Jennings hopes to pick up seven Dems--including himself--and the 15 Republican votes to overturn that decision when the full Senate votes on the matter on the opening day of the Legislature in January. Yesterday Sanchez was advised here by various Alligators to play it tough. Today another view: Sanchez should coax Jennings down from the tree.

Sanchez should offer Jennings the chair of the Senate Corporations Committee. Control of the Senate is too big a prize to be won or lost by taking senators to the woodshed. Such tactics come back to haunt because offenders and their allies still have votes to cast on many other issues and there is always time to wait for comeuppance. Further, that two guys from the North, Senators Campos and Cisneros, have an alliance, makes voting with the Republicans attractive to many Democratic senators.

That alliance referenced there is the rumored pledged by Sen. Cisneros to make Campos chairman of Senate Finance, a position currently held by Senator John Arthur Smith. The president pro tem has major say on Senate committee assignments.

The odds do not favor the Jennings coup because Dem defectors have to cast their votes with the Republicans and for Jennings in public. But stranger stuff has happened. How could Jennings get there, assuming the R's will all vote for him? Here are the possible "Jennings Seven" as compiled by the Alligators: Jennings, Mary Kay Papen, John Arthur Smith, Senator-elect Howie Morales, Linda Lopez, Senator-elect George Munoz and Lynda Lovejoy. There are a couple of other names going around as well. If you hear any of these names start to publicly peel away from Jennings, he will be a dead man walking.

Jennings commands respect throughout the state. There is a fear that the Legislature could lurch to the left next session. That helps the fiscally conservative Tim. But Democrats fear that if his backing of Republican Senator Rawson against his Dem election foe is allowed to stand, the Democratic Party faces chaos.


Talk of a $136 billion federal aid package for the states has us all ears. Will NM, facing a possible $500 million budget shortfall, get a cut? A bunch of the money would go for the Medicaid health program which is straining state budgets. The lion's share would go to create public works jobs to help jump start the economy. Some R Guv's call it another bad bailout idea. We won't argue with that, but if Congress is going to do it New Mexico needs to get its share. Are our newbie congressmen---Teague, Heinrich and Lujan--keeping this on their radar? Santa Fe surely has to be watching closely.

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