Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Grab A Cigar And Let's Talk Havana: A Place In The Sun For Bill? The Chatter Starts, Plus: Bailing Out NM; Guv's Budget Plan, And: A Partial Eclipse 

Whether it's idle chatter or the prelude to something remains to be seen, but there is buzz going on for the appointment of Governor Big Bill as a special envoy to Cuba. Because of the profound implications for state politics, the talk is being intensely monitored here.

Richardson only last week received the good news that neither he or his top aides will face indictments in the CDR pay-to-play probe. He was in Cuba when he received that news. His trip, supposedly to promote NM agricultural projects, expanded beyond that narrow definition and gave Richardson a chance to show his diplomatic stuff. It was enough for our Senior Alligators to immediately talk of a possible Cuba role for Richardson that would take him out of the Governor's chair. And it now has the foreign policy blog the Washington Note taking notice and calling for a Bill appointment as a special envoy to Cuba. That blog was picked up by Talking Points Memo. Both are liberal sites read by Washington insiders. Here are the money lines now for you Bill watchers:

Bill Richardson is the right guy to upend the institutional inertia at the Department of State and the House Foreign Affairs Committee in charting a new, more constructive course in US-Cuba relations. He gets this issue better than any other major player in US politics and made this clear as well during the presidential debates and his campaign for the White House.

His modest statement that America did not need a "special envoy" -- and did not need him -- for this challenge is incorrect...Obama should ask Bill Richardson to be his envoy, sherpa and nudge to drive US-Cuba relations beyond the anachronistic Cold War trap they have been in towards new terms of engagement fit for the 21st century and Obama's eventual foreign policy legacy.

And there is this video of Richardson bantering with the international press corp and brought to us from CBS News. Richardson turned in a strong performance, even as his domestic critics were lambasting him as ethically challenged. Others wondered why Richardson has time for Cuba while the state confronts its largest fiscal crisis in several generations. (More on that below.)

We've been a bit surprised by the number of our veteran analysts who believe Richardson is out of here in a matter of months. Those more cautious say the Guv's relationship with the White House is not that warm and that there is still another pay-to-play probe in progress by the ABQ federal grand jury that could keep the harness on the Guv.

Denish & Bill
As we;ve previously written to you, the politics of an appointment, barring any future Big Bill legal troubles, could not be better for this White House.

A Richardson appointment would make Democratic Lt. Governor Diane Denish the Governor. Denish, who first supported Hillary Clinton for Prez, would be indebted big time to the Obama White House. She could then bury what could be developing into a nasty political battle for lieutenant governor by naming her own #2.

As the incumbent governor--even if only for a couple of months--she would be the heavy favorite for re-election against any R opponent. Also, the next governor will preside over the redrawing of the boundaries of the state's congressional and legislative districts. And, most important to the White House, a Dem governor could help deliver the state's five electoral votes to Obama in 2012.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but let's not get caught napping either.


The reaction of veteran politico Steve Cabiedes was pretty typical as word spread among the insiders that State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who had formed a Dem Guv exploratory committee, will not take on Denish for the '10 nomination.

With no indictments coming down, the reason for his candidacy has vanished. He was seen as a back-up for Denish, if she became too tarred. It does not appear that is going to happen, and Michael will stay on the sidelines.

Denish, who has about $1.8 million in the bank, faces no primary opposition, but hold on. Supporters of ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez are holding out the possibility that he could enter the Guv battle if he is successful in his October 6 re-election bid. Not likely perhaps, but nevertheless enough to keep Di from daydreaming too much.


The Guv pulled a few rabbits out of his hat Tuesday as he unveiled his plan to address the mammoth budget shortfall--now over $440 million for the fiscal year that started July 1st. That shortfall will be addressed in a special legislative session he will likely call for October.

His proposal manages to keep the state's cash reserves at 8 percent of the budget without raising taxes or laying off or furloughing any government workers. His big saving is the previously disclosed 3 percent across the board cut in state spending--excluding the public schools. That would shore up $100 million of the shortfall.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings is arguing for a five percent across-the-board cut and he is not talking about exempting education. However, Jennings, an important moderating voice in budget matters, may lose the PR war unless he begins to get specific. For example, will he target the outsized salaries at the administrative level at the University of New Mexico? Or the excessive numbers of administrative personnel at the ABQ Public Schools?

With the state's high school drop out rate at miserable levels, New Mexicans are not happy with the results they have been getting from big education spending, but that doesn't mean they are in a punitive mood toward all aspects of public education. They are as adverse to harmful cuts as they are to over-the-top spending.

Jennings and company will need to prioritize and spell out their education cuts if they are to sell them. That means taking on the state's education elite--not school teachers and school janitors-and having the political courage to do it.


On the state's cash reserves, we've pointed out that in the past they have been at five percent. The eight percent level the Guv proposed is down from the over 10 percent we had in the great bull market. Taking it down a percentage or two lower than eight percent--as some lawmakers may want--would not be unprecedented. Lawmakers may want to go there and ignore some of the Guv's specific budget cuts. Speaking of which...

The Guv also calls for undoing up to $75 million in capital outlay projects or, as it is more commonly known, legislators "pork." He would put that money in the general fund to help cover the shortfall. And he would use $91 million in federal stimulus money to prevent cuts in school funding. The conservatives are going to come after him on that, arguing that the stimulus money is one time money and will simply put off cuts that are inevitable. Bill will argue using that money now will give us a chance for the economy to recover, which would put more money in state coffers and make education cuts unnecessary.

The rabbits in the hat we spoke of earlier are the $135 million in short term bond money that the Guv would put in the general fund and $40 million sitting in bank accounts. Funny how money you never knew existed starts showing up when government jobs are on the line.


Well, it's back. And so is the hype and the near desperate rhetoric to make something out of the failed experiment known as Eclipse Aviation--now Eclipse Aerospace. The "new" Eclipse was announcing this week that it is starting to rehire staff to service the light jets the company once produced, but there are no immediate plans to restart production of the aircraft in which the state invested and lost some $19 million. The company also received millions more in incentives. It was also the company that economic planners and politicians built their economic hopes around in the late, great bull market. They thought Eclipse would be the beginning of an "aviation cluster" here. It did not happen and it is not going to, according to aviation experts who are not drinking the local Kool-Aid.

It appears Eclipse could hire up to a couple of hundred workers to service the jets currently out there. That's good news, but Eclipse as a cornerstone of ABQ's future economy was and is a pipe dream. Some of the media seem to be waking up to that fact with slightly more aggressive coverage.

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