Friday, September 18, 2009
The sudden announcement that a deal had been cut to find a new mission for the 150th Fighter Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base--more commonly known as the Tacos--left a trail of political intrigue and uncertainty in its wake. First, the news that the fighter wing will no longer have a fighter mission, but become associated with KAFB's 58th Special Operations Wing came from the NM National Guard. There was nary a mention of Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich who has made rescuing the Tacos and their 1,100 jobs and $15 million annual payroll a central task of his first term. Second, questions were immediately raised about how long an "arranged marriage" between the two very different Kirtland outfits could last.
Heinrich came with a less than enthusiastic press statement in reaction to the Guard's news release, calling it a "handshake agreement" between the Air Force and the National Guard. He said he was "optimistic" that the deal would stick, but that he would "continue pushing the Air Force to establish a plan for stationing...F-35's at Kirtland."
Even if Heinrich was not thrilled with the new mission because it does not include the fighter jets, he could have been given a lead role to announce this "rescue" as temporary and get political credit for keeping the Tacos and their many support jobs alive. That he was not perhaps explains the tepidness of his reaction.
CRUNCHING THE TACOS
Besides stripping them of their fighting mission, something the Kirtland partnership and Heinrich opposed, the new Taco mission is temporary. It will have to be reviewed and approved each year. The Tacos are losing their aging F-16 fighter jets. They hope this new training mission for searches and rescues and such will last until the new F-35 comes on line years from now. But one of our readers who works with the Tacos is not convinced:
The devil is in the details, but it will be a slow creep which will keep it out of the headlines. Good news for the politicians short-term, but the net effect will still be the loss of a Wing equivalent at Kirtland. I like to make the comparison of this to that of an arranged marriage. At the very least, the death grip of the fighter pilots has been broken and there is at least some type of progress. Time will tell.
For now, it appears this deal will keep the paychecks coming for a year or two and that is good news for Heinrich who is trying to make inroads into the more conservative sections of the ABQ district. But the news appeared to be released prematurely and messily leaked. That did not help the freshman lawmaker who will be known for only two or three major events when he seeks re-election next year, his role in the Taco saga being one of them.
The NM National Guard is headed up by Major General Kenny Montoya who has come under fire for not looking forward enough and finding a new mission for the Tacos years ago when it became clear their F-16's were going to be lost. Sources in Washington report that it was Montoya who was first notified by an Air Force official that a deal had been cut. They also said the Air Force "was not happy" with the way the news came out. Neither, we presume, was Congressman Heinrich who successfully passed legislation to save Montoya's Tacos through the US House and sent it over to the Senate. Not one of the TV news Web site stories extolling how the Tacos had been "saved" mentioned Heinrich, nor did the first news story from the ABQ Journal. The paper also reported Montoya was unavailable for comment.
BEHIND THE SCENES POWER
Man in the Middle
Attention all you lobbyists, wall-leaners, Alligators and hangers-on. You want to know the man in the middle of this pic. He's been around a long time, but his stock has gone up lately, along with that of his boss--NM senior Senator Jeff Bingaman. Stephen Ward is the chief of staff for Democrat Bingaman, chairman of the powerful Senate energy committee. As Jeff's gatekeeper, he keeps an eye on where federal funds are headed here and whose up and down politically and which of you Alligators Bingaman can trust. Also shown in the pic is veteran politico Bianca Ortiz Wertheim, the state director for freshman Dem US Senator Tom Udall, who despite being new to the club of 100, is in the majority. And that majority is commanded by the third person in the pic--US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He may be in a tough 2010 re-election race, but right now he has the keys to the kingdom.
By the way, Bianca is the wife of attorney and former NM Dem Party Chairman John Wertheim. John is a longtime contributor to KANW 89.1 FM Election Night coverage and we're pleased that he will be back with us to cover the October 6 ABQ mayoral election on 89.1 FM and www.kanw.com kicking off at 6:30 p.m.
THE OLGUIN CONNECTION
Out with the gang recently at one of the local eateries and our waitress turns out to be one of the prettiest women in New Mexico. And, of course, she has ties to La Politica. Natassia Weber is the granddaughter of former state House Majority Leader Michael Olguin, now a lobbyist at the Roundhouse. Natassia is busy in college and lives with her parents in Rio Rancho.
Olguin's clients include Laguna Pueblo. For many years he represented a House district in Socorro. He was defeated in 1998 by Republican Don Tripp who still holds the seat. Natassia is the niece of Bob Olguin, Michael's brother, and the owner of the famed political hangout the Buckhorn Tavern near San Antonio, NM. With her pedigree, could a political career be in her future?
Thanks for making us a part of your week. E-mail your news and comments.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
Not for reproduction without permission of the author