Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Taco Indigestion? Hill Action Raises Question, Plus: More Heinrich Hurdles; First The Left, Now Right, Also: Daniels Says No; Coast Clear For Barela 

If Defense Secretary Gates can smack down pork-hungry Senators on a big time program like the F-22 fighter jet, you've got to think his plans to dismantle the 150th Air National Guard fighter wing known as the Tacos stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base has more legs than locals would like. At stake are 1,100 jobs and an annual $25 million infusion into the ABQ are economy. The defense authorization bill passed by the House calls for Gates to find an alternative mission for the Tacos and prohibits him from taking away their aging F-16 jet fighters. But the really tough part is yet to come: The Congress has to agree to put up the money to fund the Tacos for another year.


ABQ Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich has been working to save the Tacos and getting kudos for it, but he is taking hits from the left for how he's approaching the health care debate. We blogged those criticisms last week). Now he's taking hits from the right. The ABQ Journal editorial page gave the new lawmaker their first slap on his behind for his "refusal to talk about the volume and nature of public feed back" on proposed health care reform. The R leaning editorialists dub it "Heinrich's Secret" and label his refusal to cough up the info "puzzling" and "amateurish." Other members of the NM Congressional delegation gave the paper the number and the viewpoints of the people who have contacted their offices on the hyper-hot health care debate. National Republicans have begun hitting Heinrich over the hot-button issue in radio spots. They are also airing radio on the same issue against southern Dem US Rep. Harry Teague.


Rep. Heinrich
Heinrich is on a learning curve and despite a big 2008 victory (55 percent) in what has always been called a "swing district," he is worried about re-election. The failure to release input into his office can be read as a rookie mistake. The e-mail and voice mail into Martin's office may have been unbalanced, with an anti-Obama health care reform message engineered by organized groups. (Here's a new radio ad blasting Heinrich on a wide range of issues including health care. It comes from a a new conservative nonprofit--Southwest Citizens Coalition headed by Farmington's Allen McCulloch). Because the issue goes to the openness and approachability of the ABQ congressional office, it is not going to go overlooked. Perhaps more disturbing is this assertion from the newspaper:

... He also declined the Journal's request for an interview on the status of the legislation in the House, and instead issued a statement saying that he's met with health care consumers, providers, seniors and others to gather input.

Heinrich spokesman John Blair told me there was confusion on this point. While the office did not want to discuss the public input it received on the health care plan, Heinrich, he said, was not reluctant to discuss the legislation itself.

"We got overloaded and didn't return the (newspaper's) phone call in time, but that was not because the Congressman did not want to talk about the overall bill," He explained.

Well, whatever the case, letting it all hang out--the number of people who call on a particular issue and the percentage of pros and cons--would solve this communications mishap.

Not that experience always prevents communications snafus. In June of 2008 then-US Rep. Tom Udall, now a US Senator, also decided to go dark when approached by Journal D.C. beat reporter Michael Coleman. It didn't work out well for Tom. Neither did Martin's lockjaw but we suspect, like Tom's, it will be short-lived.


A burr in the saddle of some NM Dems is their perception that the editorial pages of the ABQ Journal have taken on an even more conservative tone since Obama became President. Add in conservative radio talk shows and they get the urge to stiff-arm the source. But like the Wall Street Journal, the news pages of the daily fish wrapper are separate from the editorial writers. Reporters are hired to report and editorial writers to opine.


Like Heinrich, northern Dem US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is also being watched closely by NM progressives to make sure he sticks to backing the public health option, the most controversial proposed heath reform. Some of them fear possible future statewide ambitions could lead Lujan to stray as he tries to court conservatives. He says he supports the public health option. Heinrich's office also says he supports the option. Of course, it all may be academic. Senate Dems are moving toward killing the public option. Progressives remain nervous that both Democrats Heinrich and Lujan are talking more about containing health costs than emphasizing providing universal care. The progressives are also learning to read campaign contribution reports for Democratic lawmakers, not just R's.


Obama was elected on the mantra of change, more so than even Clinton in '92. And today there is an impatience with Washington as the country remains mired in a recession, jobs continues to vanish and investment portfolios crash. The Democratic base wants to cash in the capital they earned when they helped engineer big victories for Heinrich and Lujan. Lujan has drawn a Republican challenger, Adam Kokesh, and Heinrich has R Jon Barela. But the congressmen also need to put primary threats from the left back on their radar. These are indeed unsettled times.


Before R's start dancing in the streets over the prospects of taking Heinrich out next year, they need to remind themselves that he came into office with a large amount of goodwill, has he ability to work across the aisle, and an obvious passion for his new job. That doesn't sound like an employee you are about to fire.


Also on the ABQ US House beat, it appears that Republican Jon Barela will have the Republican field to himself. Insiders are saying funeral director Kevin Daniels, who toyed with the idea of a run for the GOP nod and the right to take on Heinrich next year, is not going to go. Daniels this month visited with national R's in D.C. to talk about a race, but business obligations and family considerations will keep him from making his first run for political office, according to an insider who has been keeping us informed.

This is good news for Barela. He is now very likely to become the GOP nominee without opposition. He raised about $75,000 in his first round of fund-raising and R's are excited to have an Hispanic nominee. (Heinrich has nearly $500,000 in the bank). But they were also excited about having Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White run against Heinrich in '08 and that ended badly.

Barela has already been introduced to the treachery of big time congressional politics. At his announcement event he trotted out Democrat and attorney Robert Aragon to endorse his candidacy to demonstrate his crossover appeal. But last week Bernalillo county Dems met to rebuke Aragon and strip him of his ward chairmanship.


Among the top things on the list of things we'd like to know is the political outlook for the ABQ congressional seat. Has it gone more "blue?" Was the Heinrich landslide an Obama-centric event, or has something more fundamental shifted, making the city seat more reliably Dem? The months ahead may give us polling that has the answer.


Santa Fe County Commissioner Mike Anaya was on the early list of possible 2010 Dem land commission candidates, but we blogged a couple of weeks ago that he had fallen off the list. Now the reason has gone public. The husband of a woman who worked with Anaya when he was president of the NM Association of Counties, Michael Archuleta, is charging in a legal action that Anaya had a sexual relationship with his wife that ruined the Archuleta marriage.

We broke the news recently that former Attorney General Patsy Madrid is weighing a Dem land commission run. Former Dem land commissioner Ray Powell, Jr. is already running. So far, the R's have Bob Cornelius of Lea County and Erol Chavez of Las Cruces seeking the GOP nomination.

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