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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Mood In The Capital City: An Insider Blogs In, Plus: R's Get A Mayor Hopeful On Field, And: Reader React To Guv's Push Back On Fed Grand Jury 

The Santa Fe party has ended and the hangover is here. Legislative veterans of all different stripes are commenting on the new somber and sober mood at the Roundhouse, a striking change given the years-long frolic featuring gobs of political pork to be dished out to all comers. We asked one of our Capitol Alligators to blog of New Mexico's new political mood. Here's some incisive and insightful stuff:

The excesses of past years are gone. No more lavish meal spreads (paid for by lobbyists) in the committee offices. The Capitol is no longer bursting with flowers on opening day or Valentine’s Day. The big bash parties, once open to everyone, are long gone--everything worth going to is invitation-only.

Staffers are no longer showered with food and drink and legislative committees more and more seem to be paying for their own snacks and beverages. Staff members --not lobbyists--are buying the birthday cakes for their legislators.

The crowds are down too. Fewer groups of school kids, fewer groups of citizens mobbing the Capitol...Of course the upside is that people don’t seem to be as sick as in past sessions. Less people, less germs.

For the first time ever during a session, I was able to walk into the Guadalupe Café and get a seat at 12:15, without waiting. Getting a lunchtime table at Rio Chama is no problem either--especially if you’re willing to eat in the bar or wait five minutes.

Not a lot is really getting done. Of course, with no money there’s not all that much that can get done...It’s a strange session, Joe. Less fun than ever. It’s very, very different but not all in a bad way...Perhaps a larger dose of reality than we’ve seen in a long time. More serious and less festive. More businesslike and less like a party. Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be…

We'll bring you more this week of our insider's take on Santa Fe's new mood.

R'S FIND A MAYOR HOPEFUL
Rep. Berry
He may not be a first-string quarterback, but ABQ GOP State Rep. Richard (RJ) Berry gets the R's on the field. As we blogged recently, for the first time in history the ABQ mayor's race kicked off with no Republican in the field. But the entrance of Berry, 46, remedies that. It also gives us the first self-identified "conservative Republican" in the contest. Politically, that is good and not so good. Good in the sense that it will give Berry a significant base of support, but not so good because that base is nowhere near large enough to get him in the winner's circle. He will have to move to the center to do that. The race is offically nonpartisan and candidates will not be citing their party affiliaton in their paid media or be listed by party on the October ballot.

Berry, a political unknown city wide, was only elected to the Legislature in 2006, but he is affable, well-informed and respected by his fellow lawmakers. The Iowa native has a degree in finance from the University of New Mexico and sits on the important House Appropriations committee. He and his wife, ABQ native and fellow UNM grad Maria Medina, own Cumbre Construction which has done considerable government work. The couple has a 12 year old son.

THE BERRY BUSINESS


From 2000 to 2007 Berry's construction company was awarded $48 million in Defense Department contracts for work at military bases including Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon. For example, in 2003, the company received $14 million for defense work; in 2006, $7 million. However, in 2007, that amount shriveled to $607,000. The business is classified as "Hispanic American" owned. The firm was recently ranked #465 on Hipsanic Magazine's list of the 500 largest US Hispanic owned companies.

Berry will not self-finance his campaign, opting for public financing as all the other candidates have done. He told us the tough economic times make his "skill set" in business and finance especially relevant this election year.

In debuting his candidacy, he expressed concern over the city's red light program, but did not say he would shut it down; he said if he had been Governor he would not have approved the now popular Rail Runner and he expressed concern about the size of city government. In a news release, he said: "We can either choose to adopt the bailout mentality that looks to a big and powerful government for everything, or we can choose to have a limited and responsible government..."

Berry's avuncular personality sets him apart from the Republicans who have dominated the scene here recently, but it won't be easy becoming an overnight sensation. No Republican has been elected to the city's top job since 1981 and no Anglo has won since 1985. Mayor Chavez will have to make a major stumble if Berry is to see the finish line. Still, Berry does not have to give up his safe GOP NE Heights and East Mountain legislative seat to make the race. If he survives the vetting and character tests of a major political campaign, he could emerge as a new face for his Republican Party which is sorely in need of them. Berry does not yet have a Web site. His email address is: BerryForMayor@gmail.com

GREG'S LESSON
Greg Zanetti
Here's an e-mail sent out by 2010 Guv candidate Greg Zanetti detailing his first brush with the blogosphere--namely, yours truly:

...I went to the Secretary of State's office to get the paperwork to form a Political Action Committee to begin my run for Governor...I had intended to do this quietly...Political lesson number one of politics: There are no secrets. By the next morning a well-known political blog had picked up on the story, and by that afternoon, KKOB radio was running a call-in poll pitting me against former Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Sigh. I did win the poll 43-13; although I don't take much stock in call-in polls. Still, I'm glad it didn't go the other way!

Run for Governor quietly, Greg? Heck, if you're going to try to run this state and move billions of bucks around, we want to know how you order your eggs. Welcome aboard.

THE WEH WAY


Former NM GOP Chairman Allen Weh is no stranger to the blogs, especially this one where the retired Marine Colonel and I went back and forth over the years on what measures and personalities would best serve the state's minority party. We rarely agreed with him, but we appreciated his willingness to pursue the dialogue. Now it seems Allen doesn't want the game to end. We mentioned his flirtation with the 2010 GOP Guv nod. Now we're told Weh basically announced for Governor before the weekend convention of NM GOP women in Santa Fe, telling the audience he will make a formal declaration when the legislative session ends.

In 2008, Weh presided over one of the worst election cycles ever for NM Republicans, so where's he going to get the money to run? Well, he is head of CSI Aviation which did a ton of government work during the Bush years and with the not inconsequential assistance of one former GOP congresswoman by the name of Heather Wilson. But isn't Heather toying with a Guv run of her own? Allen and Heather running against one another? Let's get Steve Pearce in this thing and really start the party.

Speaking of Heather, insiders say those consulting gigs she reports she has secured are for government agencies of the three letter variety, like NSA etc., etc.

And then there's the Dems and Di and Val. We had a blog up for a few hours last week that said Lt. Guv Denish had hosted a Santa Fe fund-raiser while Val was having a party that featured music legend Sting. Well, Di isn't allowed to do fund-raising during a legislative session--and her office says she wasn't. Whatever party she was at was not a fund-raiser.

BACKING FOURATT
ABQ Federal Courthouse
From a top state law enforcement official comes e-mail reaction to Big Bill's push back against the CDR federal grand jury, US Attorney Greg Fouratt and our Monday coverage:

I would be careful before you keep passing out nonsense about the U.S. Attorney. He is a very honorable man…that is why most of the Federal Judges picked him. He is also very well respected in the law enforcement community. That also includes Assistant US Attorney Tara Neda...Taking on a standing Gov is no easy duty...Neda just returned from an extensive tour of duty with the Justice Department in war-torn Afghanistan...She is a hard working, conscientious, patriotic and honest prosecutor...I have enjoyed your Blog for some time, but this time, you are way off mark...

We don't see coverage of this news as "passing out nonsense." However, we did reverse the first and last names of prosecutor Tara Neda in our fist draft. Sorry about that.

We blogged the push back operation Big Bill and his operatives have undertaken against Fouratt. What's fiction and what isn't should come out in due time and the public can judge. Sometimes, readers "need to be careful" not to get the message mixed up with the messenger.

This e-mail comes from an attorney who once worked along side prosecutor Tara Neda who is heading up the CDR federal grand jury probe:

If there is anything to be found, she will find it. I worked next to her.. She is a very tough, thorough prosecutor. She is not afraid to try the tough cases either.


Yeah, now we're really bloggin'.....

THE BOTTOM LINES
"King Val"
Can King Val replace King Bill? It's another weird Val moment. Val partied it up in New Orleans this weekend as King Bacchus XLI on the Krewe of Bacchus' legendary Mardi Gras float. 2008's King Bacchus, Hulk Hogan, stepped down from the throne to let the former Batman star reign supreme. But Val, who is toying with a 2010 NM Dem Guv run will have a much harder time getting Light Guv Diane Denish to give him the Guv throne. By the way we mentioned last week that Denish had a Santa Fe fund-raiser lately at which time Val was having a party of his own. Denish is not allowed to raise funds during the legislative session so whatever event she was attending was not a fundraiser....

Late night TV's Craig Ferguson: "Arnold Schwarzenegger is taking time off as the Governor of California to shoot a part in an upcoming movie. The movie's about a terrible disaster. And it's called "Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Governor of California."

E-mail your news and comments, anonymously, if you wish.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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