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Friday, October 16, 2009

Politics Of A Special: Impact On The '10 Election, Plus: The Stubborn Guv; Why? And: More Trail Action; Harry & Steve Money And My Bottom Lines 

  • Audio and video of Special Session located here. UPDATE 4:50 p.m. Saturday: Deal floating that would include education cuts to solve $660 million shortfall. Guv now calls for 1.5% cut to public education. Senate and House in recess until Sunday after holding brief organizing sessions. Sen. back at 2:30 p.m.; House at 1:30 p.m.
Our State Capitol
Politics loom over the Roundhouse and the 2010 special legislative session set to kick off at noon Saturday. If majority Democrats can't do a deal to close the elephantine budget shortfall of $650 million, will the Republicans benefit in 2010? What about Lt. Governor Diane Denish? She had a good week as she announced big fund-raising numbers for her Guv run, but what will the likely Dem nominee be saying after this special is over? Would a train wreck make a Guv run more likely by former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson who lurks as the special looms? And what about Democratic House members? All 70 seats are up for election. Union members, school teachers and other members of the Democratic base don't want severe budget cuts. If there is a deal and moderate Dems vote for cuts, will that lead to primary contests?

The relationship between the Governor and conservative Dem Senate leaders like Jennings and Smith has disintegrated. What is left seems to be an intense personal loathing. Richardson's statements about the legislative deals he is being offered to solve the crisis are downright contemptuous. There is not much political cost to the lame-duck Governor to be hanging tough, but keep in mind Richardson is now arguably a minority approved governor. Survey USA has him at 48 percent and the ABQ Journal poll at only 51% approval. That's a far cry from the ample approval ratings he boasted before prior sessions. Then there's the never ending pay-to-play allegations polluting the state. Throw on top of it the Guv's Elephant Butte boat ride gone bad and you have a chief executive whose moral authority has waned.

By refusing to consider any public school budget cuts to cut out excess and by failing to implement a real hiring freeze, the Governor is playing with fire with independents--a huge swath of the electorate that are always jumpy and could turn against "Richardson-Denish" on a dime. He enters this special trying to lead from both left and right--decrying efforts to spread the budget pain by supporting deeper cuts and refusing to consider any tax increases.

He is also sounding similar to recently defeated ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez who clung to the notion that the economic situation in ABQ was not as bad other cities so we don't have much to worry about. Richardson is now saying other states have it much worse and our budget crisis is really not all that bad. That sounds like a recipe for isolation, not engagement.

Legislators will get something done as they consume up to $50,000 a day in the special. Lawmakers we spoke with said the $240 million deficit left from the last fiscal year will be closed without significant controversy. They must do it in order to satisfy the state's constitutional mandate that the budget be balanced.

MORE SPECIAL PREVIEW

Speculation at the capitol is that the Governor is even more intransigent than usual because he sees his place in history at stake. Besides downplaying the mess, he increasingly blames the national economic decline for the state's problems, not any overspending or miscalculations by his administration. Whatever the reason for his profound stubbornness, Big Bill may be pushing at historical forces. This could arouse the animal spirits of lawmakers. Can we be the first to whisper "veto override?" No chance, you say? House Speaker Lujan will hold the fort? Well, if he can hold his allies together. And right now that's questionable.

Still, the Governor may hold tight, refusing to deal and this special could end like others--with the Senate abruptly adjourning, saying they will take up the budget mess again in the regular January session. Richardson would call the legislators irresponsible and that it was he who "protected the kids."

That may work for Bill Richardson, but it is a scary game for Diane Denish. She would need a mighty big shovel to clean up the mess left by the failure of her Governor and her party to do the job they were elected to do.

NO PAIN, PLEASE
Rep. Rodefer
NM legislators get $159 each day they meet. (It went up from $145 Oct. 1) We suggested recently that they cut that amount as a symbolic gesture as they prepare to shave hundreds of millions from other state agencies. Cutting it 10 percent would be about 14 bucks, but you would think we stepped on the cat's tail judging by the reaction from one former lawmaker and one current one. First up is freshman ABQ Democratic State Rep. Ben Rodefer:

Joe, you made many sensible suggestions regarding possible budget solutions, but you were way off base when you spoke of legislators needing to take less. New Mexico is one of only a couple of states who do not pay their legislators. The modest per diem provided is based on Federal regional standards. We are citizen legislators and most of us lose money serving...It is a great disservice for you to perpetuate some myth about legislators getting fat on the hog. Personally I have made less money this, my first year than in any of the previous dozen years. It is due directly to the time, energy and hard work I have chosen to devote to serving...

Thanks, Ben. But we are not about to get out the violins. You asked for the job and you knew what it entailed. Your main compensation is the power bestowed on you to influence the critical issues of the day.

Our proposal for legislators to forgo some of their per diem was meant as a symbolic gesture for them to show their willingness to take part in the sacrifice. If legislators returned 10 percent of their diem that would be about $14 of the $145 a day they receive.

Next up is former ABQ GOP State Senator Joe Carraro who also says solons need every dime of that 145 bucks:

...Legislators don't receive a salary and to lessen their per diem, which they really do use for food and lodging, would place an extraordinary burden on many of them that don't have other sources of income when they serve. And during special sessions the only free meals are usually only offered to leadership. Keep up your knowledgeable and Independent reporting....

Thanks, Joe. But why do Senators Jennings and Sanchez and Reps Lujan and Martinez (the legislative leadership) get all the free meals. Come on lobbyists and wall-leaners, spread some of that menu love around. And, please, let's keep Rodefer happy and throw in a free dessert for him.

HOW LONG?

We don't see the session going for up to two weeks as has been speculated in the press. We think the best chance for a deal is in the first three to five days. If there is none, tempers will fray and the move to get out will get going. The cuts would still have to be made, but they would be done at the regularly scheduled session in January.

DO THIS HERE?

Blog reader Carol Nordengren on the NM budget crisis:

Iowa has a slightly smaller deficit than ours, and they've cut agency budgets by 10%. I'm thinking State Government at a minimum needs to go on a 35 hour week. 9-5 or 8:30-4:30 won't solve all the problems, but leaves services for citizens intact while helping cut down the deficit.

And retired journalist Kurt Lohbeck, a former ABQ GOP state legislator who served in the 70's, told us he would like to see 10 percent of the state lottery fund used to finance university scholarships for state high school graduates shifted over to help fund the public schools.Food for thought...

NOT QUITE AS BAD

The $650 million projected state deficit for the budget year that started July 1 is based on the state keeping a 10 percent reserve. However, if we take it down to a six percent reserve, the deficit is around $600 million, according to a House member familiar with the budget. Just wanted to give you a glimmer of good news as we head into that dark tunnel known as the Special Session.

In our report Thursday we pegged the deficit projection at $660 million, based on a TV news report. But the AP reports the number is $650 million. Of course, if you're Big Bill its only about $430 million.

TRAIL DUST

Matt Rush, a fifth generation cattle rancher from Roosevelt County, was being introduced around the recent NM Oil and Gas Association conference in Santa Fe as a Republican candidate for land commissioner. Rush lost a previous race for the state House to Dem Rep. Joe Campos. If he makes his land bid official, he will be joining former Bernalillo County GOP executive Director Bob Cornelius and retired federal DEA agent Errol Chavez. On the Dem side, Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya made official his land commission candidacy official Thursday. Former Land Commissioner Ray Powell is also running and so is Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones.

TOO FAR OUT

Not a few Republicans think Adam Kokesh is too far out to carry their party's banner against Dem US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in 2010, so they've come with an alternative. Farmington petroleum engineer and independent oil and gas producer Tom Mullins, 40, will announce his bid for the GOP nod on Saturday. Kokesh says he has raised $100,000 for his bid, a lot of it from supporters of libertarian Ron Paul. Mullins is a Colorado native who has lived in NM 18 years. The chairman of the NM GOP is oilman Harvey Yates, so you get the play here.

THE MONEY WATCH

Steve Pearce had a boffo fund-raising performance for the quarter that ended Sept. 30--he raised $507,000 compared to Dem Incumbent US Rep. Harry Teague's 257,000.

Pearce is saying the fact that he out raised Teague by two to one shows the southern congressional district is ready to have him back. But state Dems say Harry is not broke--he has $757,000 cash on hand while Pearce has about $460, 000 in cash. The state Dems came with this to slow Steve down:

Pearce was always a better fundraiser than he was a Congressman. Pearce's six years as a Washington insider taught him that it is going to take a lot of money to convince the voters of the 2nd congressional district to forget about his record...or at least to forget his ties to the rampant corruption that plagued his Republican leaders...

And a Pearce operative retorted:

Teague raised almost 50% of his money from Washington. Though he says he is "too busy representing New Mexico to concentrate on fundraising," he's obviously not to busy to go around Washington and take labor union PAC money that is all over his report. We raised 80% from New Mexico donors alone.

The early back and forth tells us what we all know--the fight for the southern House seat is going to be a premier battle. Expect the Dems to turn up the fund-raising a notch now that Pearce has scored a PR win.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We initially blogged that incoming ABQ chief administrative officer David Campbell did track at high school. We're told it was actually wrestling. Which seems appropriate for his new job...And we blogged this week that Darren White makes $75,000 a year as Bernalillo County Sheriff, but we're think that's a little high. We haven't had a chance to check. If you know the salary, e-mail us.

A new Web site design for GOP Guv candidate Susana Martinez that emphasizes "new media' like Facebook...The NM public TV broadcast "Report from Santa Fe" is now airing at 10:30 p.m. on KNME-TV in ABQ. Big Bill will be the guest of host Lorene Mills tonight...NM Dem Light Guv candidate Lawrence Rael says he has been endorsed by Isleta Pueblo...

The Special Session begins Saturday at noon. Tune in here and on Twitter for updates from us on the action

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Email your news and comments.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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