Monday, April 27, 2009

Bill And Di: Is The Ice Melting? He Shows At Fund-Raiser, Plus: Campaign Watch: Mayor's Race & Light Guv Run, And: Even More Cool Political Stuff 

Bill & Di--Warming Up?
News of note from one of our Alligators who last week attended a $1000 a pop fundraiser for Light Guv Diane Denish at Yanni's in ABQ. He informs that among those in attendance was Big Bill who he described as being in "good spirits." Another insider reports that, "The Governor spent a couple of minutes shaking hands and then left."

Richardson and Denish have had a frosty relationship and there's even been speculation that Bill has been encouraging actor Val Kilmer who has toyed with the idea of challenging Denish for the 2010 Dem Guv nomination. In that context, Richardson's appearance at a Di fund-raiser is of more than passing interest. Also, Bill has been working to get his approval ratings off their historic lows in the low 40's. Planned or not, warming to Di can't hurt. Her polls are pretty good and she looks like a frontrunner, attributes that are always appealing to the state's #1.

According to our Gator, Denish described the 2010 Dem primary as a "non-primary," apparently meaning she is the only one running, and perhaps also meaning she expects it to stay that way. Kilmer has been quiet, not making any headlines and not--to our knowledge--raising any money. Of course, a late start by a celebrity can't be ruled out, but Bill's appearance at the Di fundraiser and her description of the primary are tea leaves that will have insiders continuing to lower the odds on a Kilmer run.

But never mind Kilmer. There are no other Dem politicians making a serious move for the Dem nod. What about Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, you ask? Well, my experts say Sanchez is unlikely to pull the trigger unless another Anglo gets in the race. That would likely position him as the sole Hispanic contender and able to take advantage of an Anglo split. But if it is Di alone, Sanchez is not going to go near this thing.

What about ABQ Marty Chavez? Well, he could launch a bid if he is re-elected mayor in October. But Marty faces a glass ceiling--he's already bowed out of a Dem guv fight with Denish last year to launch a US Senate campaign and he had to abandon that because polling showed him getting trounced by Tom Udall. If Kilmer got in that could make a Chavez run more realistic, but under any circumstance the odds of Chavez winning statewide would remain low. Also, Denish is working it hard to get her fund-raising total near the $2 million level. She appears to be at about $1.8 million now. There was that Yanni's fundraiser and a number of others in the works.


It is still early in the cycle and after the epic 2008 election year, there is political fatigue. An invite to a Denish fund-raiser this Thursday at the home of advertising executive Steve Wedeen and wife Linda alludes to it:

It seems like the election season just ended, and the 2010 campaign for our next Governor is still a ways off. The fact is, Diane needs our help now. We know that our Lieutenant Governor will be outstanding in the leadership position of our state...

The Wedeen party has a "suggested donation" of $250, but they will take less. We may see more events at this relatively low level as donors recover from last year and also take stock of the sour economy that has upset the balance sheets of even the fattest of cats.


The Guv run may be in the early stages, but the heart of the cycle for the October 6, 2009 ABQ mayor's race is fast approaching. Insiders point out that Mayor Chavez has been making more after-hours public appearances as he seeks an unprecedented third term in a row and a fourth overall. His foes are also on the trail. Republican RJ Berry spent a couple of hours Saturday volunteering at the Veterans Integration Center which provides support and residences to homeless military families. Which got us to thinking...

For a state heavy with military bases and retirees--over 200,000 of them at last count--there sure are few vets in top political offices here. Richard Romero is the only one of the three mayoral candidates with military service (Air National Guard), Only Senator Bingman in our state's five member congressional delegation has served in the armed forces (army reserves) and only one of our governors of the past forty years (Bruce King) has been a vet. Not that the vets don't have political stroke. A move by the Obama administration to to cut back some of their health care benefits was met with stern opposition--especially from Congressman Ben Ray Lujan--a non veteran who represents a district where a fair share of his constituents have served in the military and where patriotism runs deep.


Sen. Cutting
Of Senator Bronson Cutting who in the years before 1920 went across Northern New Mexico and elsewhere and helped organize 30 chapters of what was then a new organization called the American Legion. These veterans, of which Cutting was one, formed a base for his future political campaigns which included a successful run for the US Senate. The courting of veterans continues to this day. For example, GOP Guv hopeful Greg Zanetti makes a point of showing up at events in the uniform he wears as a Brigadier General in the NM National Guard.


Folks don't often grumble when their bellies are full and so it was with the NM Democratic Party Central Committee as it held its annual session in downtown ABQ Saturday. The party has rarely been stronger here in terms of holding the major elective offices. The historic sweep of the state's entire congressional delegation, it's renewed domination of the Legislature and Obama's big statewide win left the Dems too stuffed to start any major fights. They unanimously re-elected Brian Colon to another two year term as party chairman.

But it wouldn't be a gathering of Democrats without a skirmish or two. One came when Taos attorney Helen Laura Lopez beat out incumbent Conny Maki for vice chair of the Third Congressional District. And there was some to and fro over the gay marriage issue which we covered with KOB-TV.

While the Dems are strong, insiders express concern about the continuous flow of state corruption stories. They wonder if that could provide the outnumbered Republicans with an opening in 2010.

Brian Colon
ABQ Dem State Senator Linda Lopez was among those on hand for the weekend Dem meeting and in full campaign mode, according to one of our Alligators:

Linda is off and running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. She had a table set up and passed out campaign stickers.

Lopez is not up for re-election to her senate seat until 2012 so she does not have to give it up to make the light guv run. A number of others are toying with the race, but some of them would have to give up legislative seats, private sector jobs or make other sacrifices. So far, that is keeping the race pretty much wide open. State Auditor Hector Balderas was seen as a possible, but is staying put and seeking re-election as Auditor.

Chairman Colon, 39, could make the light guv run, say his friends, but as we have blogged previously, they point out he is tied so closely to Big Bill that only resolution of the pay to play allegations being investigated by the federal grand jury would make a Colon run realistic.

The Denish camp has got to be nervous about Lopez. Years ago, Denish thwarted a light guv run by Lopez by keeping her off the Dem primary ballot. Now, Lopez is chair of the Senate Rules Committee where all gubernatorial appointments go for confirmation. Lopez will keep that position even if her run for light guv comes up short. A Governor Denish would have to work closely with her, or end up fighting with her as has happened with Big Bill.


Back to the Guv run for a moment. Some e-mailers dissented with Denish's assessment, carried here Friday, that healthcare jobs are resistant to layoffs in a down economy. Reader Alan Schwartz pointed to national problems with HMO's and added:

Anecdotally, my nephew's wife is a maternity ward nurse at UNMH and she has had her hours cut back with more reductions possible. People aren't expanding their families during the current uncertainty.

Also, big ABQ area healthcare provider Presbyterian Healthcare has shrunk its work force during this downturn. Still, Denish has a point. Healthcare is not experiencing the massive layoffs we are getting in the mining and manufacturing sectors, or even the tourist economy here. Speaking of which...


The recession has now hit the large New Mexico Indian casino industry. KOAT-TV reports Isleta Casino and Resort south of Albuquerque is laying off 200 of its 1200 employees and there will likely be more layoffs in the future. The 200 layoffs represent about 17 percent of the workforce there. Isleta is the state's second largest grossing casino after Sandia Casino. The net win at Isleta for the final quarter of 2008 was about $24 million. The pueblo recently opened a hotel next to the casino and hired many to run it, but some of them will now be let go.

We're still awaiting word on what is happening at the Inn of the Mountain Gods run by the Mescalero Indians near Ruidoso and the Buffalo Thunder casino at Pojoaque in the north. Both casinos are reported to be under the financial gun. Casino execs are being tight-lipped, but economy watchers have been predicting that the casinos--which have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years--would take a hit as consumers pulled back and the unemployment rate grew.

Readers have seized on our description of the mountain of corruption coming to light in this post bubble economy as "creepy-crawlers" coming out from under the rocks and they kindly e-mail us the very latest stuff. Like this:

(Bloomberg) -- Ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s top fundraiser represented CDR Financial Products Inc., an advisory firm under investigation in a federal pay-to- play probe in New Mexico, official Illinois e-mails show.

Milan Petrovic, who raised $1.96 million for Blagojevich, introduced CDR to Illinois budget and debt officials, according to e-mails obtained under a public records request. He and his lobbying firm also donated $20,000 to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson...

We all await word from that federal grand jury probing the pay to play allegations here. Who knows if they find a fire, but there is so much smoke our governor's political visibility is down to one day at a time. Also, insiders ask: Do all these new revelations coming out embolden the prosecutors handling the pay to play matter?

And how long will it be before the mob starts calling for the head of longtime State Investment Officer Gary Bland? The hits just keep coming.

E-mail it in: news, comments, story ideas, fund-raising invites and photos. If you wish, you can remain anonymous.

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