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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

General Electric Shocker: 400 ABQ Jobs Gone; The Impact & The Politics Of The Big Downturn, Plus: Heinrich's Headliner & Heather's Lesson 

The raging recession roared back to ugly life in the state's largest city Tuesday, kicking to the curb 400 well-paid New Mexicans at General Electric Aviation. The announcement of the 2010 closing of the giant conglomerate's ABQ jet engine plant signals that the worst economic downturn in over a generation has grown from adolescence to adulthood, raising long-term questions about the city's economic health, and more immediately, questions of how this turmoil will impact the nascent mayoral election.

News of the GE shock sent yet another shudder up the city's economic spine, coming as it did only a handful of months after over 800 jobs were lost at small-jet manufacturer Eclipse Aviation. The double whammy made arguments that the recession here is "not as bad as it is elsewhere" increasingly unconvincing as well as irrelevant to the thousands who have now lost their livelihoods and face a future filled with unknowns. The ABQ official unemployment rate retreated from a decades-high 7.0 percent to 6.8 percent in the latest state stats, but economists agree the real rate is higher. And the fact that insiders said GE had been gradually reducing jobs at its plant here (employment peaked at about 1,200 in the 80's) did not make the news of the massive job losses land any softer.

THE POLITICS OF JOBS

But what of the politics? Incumbent Democratic Mayor Martin Chavez is known as a strong pro-business mayor, attracting significant GOP support in his three winning election bids. But political pros sympathetic to GOP candidate and State Rep. Richard "RJ" Berry are saying he needs to begin to move forcefully on the economy and jobs issue if he is to have any chance of denying Chavez 40 percent of the vote on Oct. 6 and forcing a run-off election between the two top finishers.

One suggested the GE layoffs are ripe for the picking, that Berry needs to put forth an economic development plan while demonstrating concern for laid off workers.

"Berry should be acting. Get laid off workers--not Republicans--but Democrats--to support his vision for bringing jobs and to express disappointment in the mayor's performance. Berry can't win the election with just Republicans. The recession gives him the chance to take a share of Democratic and independent voters. He gets to tell why change is needed." Analyzed one of our Senior Alligators closely following the mayoral competition.

Berry has shied away from criticizing the failure of Eclipse Aviation, even though it was the centerpiece of Chavez's economic plan. Now our insider says the GE situation gives him another opportunity to shed the wallflower image.

"He can either start to forcefully join the economic issue or finish the race without making waves and go back to being a state representative. It's really that simple," argued our Gator of many years experience.

Not that the savvy Chavez would take an economic attack lying down. Sure, there have been layoffs and economic chaos, the veteran politician could explain, but he could point to national economic policy adopted under President Bush--whose policies Berry embraced--as causing the mess, not his administration.

A PLAY FOR RICHARD?

What about Dem Richard Romero? Would the economy issue work for him"

"Richard is seen as part of the establishment--a former state senator and two time congressional candidate. Berry is seen as new and also has the private business background Romero does not have. It is Berry who is positioned to challenge the status quo. He might fear the economic issue could make Republican business types queasy, but he needs to see it as a chance to galvanize not only his base, but the Democrats and independents that are crucial to giving him any hope of breaking through," expounded our insider.


Whatever the politics of the GE bombshell, the impact on the city will be harsh. Even though 275 of the 400 workers scheduled to lose their jobs in mid-2010 are eligible for retirement packages, such packages are not going to make up all their lost wages. And who is to say they will even stay in ABQ? The other 125 headed for the exits are not eligible for retirement packages and have few job prospects here for their specialized employment. They will stop spending, further hurting tax collections city government depends on, go on the unemployment rolls and some of their homes will inevitably go up for sale. It is a devastating, slow-motion descent, making those with safe jobs count their lucky stars.

The ongoing job losses only makes more urgent the delivery of federal stimulus money Mayor Chavez is counting on. The losses also could intensify pressure on the state's Congressional delegation to come home with a health care plan that provides protection to the mushrooming ranks of jobless New Mexicans.

THE HEINRICH HEADLINER


It's probably just coincidence, but a couple of days after tangling with the ABQ Journal over releasing information on how many constituents were calling his office and weighing in on health care reform, ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich announced he was starting what amounts to his own newspaper:

I’m launching The Heinrich Headliner...an e-newsletter to give you direct access to the halls of Congress and to keep you informed of the work I’m doing....And it’s not just a one-way street, The Heinrich Headliner’s feedback system will also be a direct line to me for your ideas and concerns. As we all know, the best ideas don’t come from Washington, they come from the folks back home. In light of the critical legislative debates we’ll be facing this year over health care, climate change, clean energy, and the economy, please consider my newsletter as an important part of your media diet.

The Journal says Heinrich declined a health care interview with them, but we're sure the Heinrich Headliner will have no trouble landing an "exclusive" with the freshman lawmaker. But we do have a question: Can you wrap fish with the Heinrich Headliner or does the Journal maintain that exclusive privilege?

HOW WILL HE PAY?

Feedback continues on the Heinrich health care front with e-mailers asking if he is so committed to the crucial "public health option," how does he plan on funding it if he won't support taxing those with annual incomes of over $1 million a year. WE suppose the answer is cost cutting, but that's not going down very well with his liberal base.

JANICE'S KNEE & HEATHER'S LESSON

If possible 2010 GOP Guv contender and ABQ State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is looking for an excuse to put an early end to her campaign she has a painful one:

Knee surgery on my left knee was a little surprising. In addition to a torn meniscus, turns out I had done serious damage to the ACL at some point in my life. It was repaired in surgery, but rehab will take longer. Crutches are very frustrating; makes everything move slower when I have an overwhelming desire to move faster...

Janice says she is in the race to stay and will give up her ABQ state House seat, but she is having a hard time convincing everyone, including this wily GOP Alligator

Janice stays in her House seat. I don't see her going the distance on a statewide race. Something (a bum knee?) will come up that causes her to have a change of heart at this point her life--but watch for her to promise to keep her political options open in the future.

Okay, the betting window is now open on whether Arnold-Jones goes the distance.

Meanwhile, we have a news release from Heather Wilson. No, the former ABQ GOP Congresswoman has not announced a bid for the Guv's chair, although many R's are beseeching her to do just that. The release comes from the Sudan of all places where Heather recently helped teach potential women candidates in the African nation how to overcome obstacles. We can just hear Heather telling them:

"First, ladies. Never get involved with a guy named Steve Pearce. He can be one hell of an obstacle...."

THE BOTTOM LINES


Errol Chavez, GOP candidate for land commissioner, spells his name with two "r's. So how come Bernalillo County Republicans sent out a news release spelling it with one R and why did we follow suit and correct our spelling based on that faulty release? What? We forgot about Errol Flynn?

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