Tuesday, January 20, 2009
BARACK OBAMA HAS BECOME THE 44TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES; NM LEGISLATURE TO CONVENE AT NOON; REGULAR UPDATES HERE ON HISTORIC HAPPENINGS
Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States today, giving the USA and its politics a chance for a fresh start. The great American nation, shouldering the burden of leading the world for better than half a century, now looks to heal itself and find the energy for renewal in a young and charismatic leader.
Obama will remember New Mexico's role in his election fondly--he carried the state with nearly 57% of the vote--but the state took a hit with the new White House when Governor Richardson had to withdraw his nomination to be Obama's Commerce Secretary. It was a federal grand jury's pay to play investigation involving a state contract that did Bill in. Because our Guv casts such a long shadow over state politics, insiders wonder and worry whether--if at least in the short-term--the new president will be gun shy in appointing other New Mexicans to prominent posts. He takes office with none in his inner or outer circles. That leaves Democratic NM senior Senator Jeff Bingaman, the chair of Senate Energy, as the state's main policy liaison with the White House.
DATELINE SANTA FE
Richardson will watch the inauguration of the new president from the sidelines in Santa Fe while he prepares to deliver his State of the State address to the NM Legislature. The session is gaveled to order at noon today for a 60 day meet. Bill has already dubbed this the "year of fiscal restraint." The big question is how restrained it will be. State Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, who has been ahead of the curve in forecasting the state's financial standing, sent politicos (and taxpayers) reeling last week when he warned that the state's revenue shortfall for the fiscal year that beings July 1 could reach a staggering $1 billion.
Will the Legislature budget for a $1 billion deficit, perhaps raising taxes? Or will it rely on more optimistic forecasts, but risk putting off a day of reckoning if Smith's gloomy forecast proves correct?
THE PARK PLAN
One of the state's leading liberals, ABQ Dem State Rep. Al Park, is siding with Smith's views. He told me prior to the session that the state should forecast an oil price for fiscal year 2010 of only $30 a barrel and budget accordingly. That could put Park at odds with some of the new liberals elected to the Roundhouse who have ideas about increasing funding for certain programs or starting new ones. But Park and others are urging realism--that the state can't count on a magical bounce back in oil and gas prices that would replenish the state's famished treasury. They are also saying counting on federal funds to bail out the state is a recipe for uncertainty.
Richardson was supposed to be on his way to D.C. by this time, but after leading the state during six years of a healthy economy he will now be around for tough times. The Guv and the Legislature seem close to a deal on how to handle the $450 million shortfall we face for the remaining months of this fiscal year. It is the budget for the next fiscal year--starting July 1-- where Bill may face choices that make no one happy. Can Richardson lead effectively in these new circumstances? He seems to have seen and done it all in politics, but not this.
Ben Lujan remains entrenched as the powerful Speaker of the NM House, but one of the top leadership posts in the more independently minded state Senate remains in play. There is genuine suspense as to who will become the Senate President Pro Tem. Will it be Tim Jennings of Roswell who upset so many Dems last year when he sided with a Republican in a Senate campaign? Tim is the incumbent Pro Tem. Or will it be Sen. Carlos Cisneros of Taos who was nominated by the 27 member Democratic caucus to replace Jennings? The 15 Senate Republicans are set to vote with the conservative Jennings. He would need seven more votes to take the post which wields major influence on who will chair the key Senate committees. The issue may still be up in the air right up until the Senate begins its deliberations at noon. Insiders say Dem Senators Munoz, Morales and Lovejoy may be key to Jennings' bid to retain power.
We'll blog the results of the Pro Tem election as soon as we hear them. The AP's Deborah Baker has more on the leadership face-off and the upcoming session.
PAY TO PLAY
We can't say what it means, if anything, but feel it is worth noting that no indictments came down from the federal grand jury investigating New Mexico pay to play in the final days of the Republican administration. The Justice Department is now under Democratic control. A new New Mexico US attorney will be named within months and like Governor Bill, he will be a Dem.
The indictment issue is not necessarily political. Each Justice Department has its own views on what constitutes pay to play and where prosecution is merited. How that impacts this investigation, we can't say, but our instincts tell us to keep it in mind.
The pay to play scam that Frank Foy, former investment officer for the state Educational Retirement Board, is coming under fire. It is putting some dents in Foy's allegations that Big Bill underlings pressured him to make lousy investments because the firms involved were contributing to the Guv's political accounts. It turns out Foy approved the $40 million investment he has cited as proof that he was politically compromised and which led to a $90 million loss.
With pay to play the soup du jour, stuff is going to come crawling out from under the rocks, but some of it may get killed before it can move much. By the way, if you are a retired NM educator, or about to become one, the ERB says there are funds available to pay current and future retirees. Still, all of our state retirement funds have been diminished by the bear market in stocks. ABQ GOP State Senator Sue Wilson Beffort is concerned about their future solvency, and will raise the issue this session. Her oversight will be welcomed by those counting on the funds for their senior years.
The Albuquerque area has not been good to former GOP southern NM Congressman Steve Pearce. First, Bernalillo County gives Democrat Tom Udall a victory of over 75,0000 over Pearce who lost the US Senate seat to Udall. Now, Pearce has been robbed in the city. Alligators report Pearce and his wife Cynthia were dining over the weekend at Savoy restaurant in the far NE Heights on Montgomery Boulevard when someone broke into their car. The Pearce's told friends valuables were taken.
No, Heather Wilson was not seen in the vicinity of the restaurant at the time of the incident.
E-mail us your news and comments, with a special invite to you wall-leaners at the Legislature to do so.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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