Monday, October 26, 2009

The Speaker & Dr. No Make The Peace, Plus: Statewide Reaction to Special Session, And: The Transition: Marty's Lame-Duck Moves & Berry Growing Pains 

Peace Made--Lujan & Smith
The 2009 special legislative session may have ended amid ambiguity and frustration, but that was an improvement over the finish of the last session in March when the wheels came off. And the key players in that spring wreck made a point of showing that bygones are truly bygones. As the clock ticked down late Friday, the PR mavens had House Speaker Ben Lujan and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith, who nearly came to blows in March, hang out together, providing the perfect picture. If not exactly looking lovey-dovey, they at least looked like two guys who could peacefully watch the end of a Lobos game together. (Come to think of it this session kind of ended like recent Lobo football tests.)

In March, you may recall, it was a far different story. Within minutes of the session skidding to a close, Lujan unloaded a diatribe on Smith that shocked the state. He approached Smith on the Senate floor, hopping mad over Smith killing a House amendment, telling him:

You are full of shit. If you have anything to accuse me of, why didn't you come and tell me to my face or at least make a phone call. You are not worth a shit. I have absolutely no interest there. (You are) a racist S.O.B.

Smith played down that outburst, saying:

You'd like for people to have better control in public but I understand when you're tired and spend a lot of time (working).


Lujan confronts Smith
The impromptu confrontation was a low-point in New Mexican politics where ethnic and cultural diversity is one of the joys of the state. Lujan rapidly apologized for his error.

We don't know if there is much bonding between Lujan and Smith going on, but the news pictures of them at session's end were more about healing the wounds their incident inflicted on the state, rather than them personally. From this corner, it appeared to do the trick.

The upcoming January session--the mother of all sessions--is going to test the temperament and stamina of all involved. In fact, leaders Lujan and Smith might be hugging each other in relief when that one is over.

(Both pics today are from the New Mexican.)


The special session may be over, but the final chapter is still to be written. Governor Big Bill may veto key sections of the budget shortfall bill that lawmakers sent him. He says it's too tough on certain state agencies. He has 20 days to decide whether he will exercise his veto power. The Guv won big on education--hardly any cuts--but is still critical of legislators for asking for some agencies to trim their budgets by over 7 percent for the rest of the budget year.

Bill, if you think that's tough, you ain't see nothing yet. We are going to have to raise taxes a gazillion dollars or take some real budget pain. Or we could do the rational thing and do some of both. Whatever the case, there are no more big kicks left to send the can down the road. The denial of economic reality ends in January. Don't say we didn't tell you.


We've gathered lawmaker reaction to the special session for you from news sources across the Land of Enchantment. Here it is--in their own words:

Sen. Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs): I know we didn’t do as much with recurring funds as we needed to and I think in January we’re going to find ourselves in a mess.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Belen): It isn’t pretty. It doesn’t solve the problem; we know that. But it’s a step forward.

Rep. Jimmie Hall (R-ABQ): It's going to have to be looked at from the standpoint that what are our essential services- that the state has to have to continue going forward.

Rep. Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell): I continue to worry that we have not addressed the problem and all we’ve done is kicked the can further down the road and it’s not a solution. We’re going to be facing a very difficult and demanding session in January.

Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith (D-Deming): We’re trying to Band-Aid something together to keep state government moving along as best we can under dire, dire circumstances.

Gov. Bill Richardson (who could veto parts of the budget bill): The drastic cuts to state agencies will likely lead to dramatically reduced critical services, such as Medicaid funding for behavioral health care, children's health care and programs for the elderly. Layoffs are also likely under the Legislature's plan.

Rep. Al Park (D-ABQ): From last year to this year, it was a billion dollar shrinkage of state government, so state employees are going to have to bear an unfortunate brunt on that.

Senator Richard Martinez (D-Española): Jesus Christ, what have my colleagues in this body become? (commenting on legislative tactics).

Sen. Rod Adair (R-Roswell): We put some Band-Aids on a grossly over-bloated budget and went home. We did it with one-time accounting maneuvers that do nothing to correct the deficit we face in the 2010 or 2011 budgets.

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez (D-Grants): One of the most emotional sessions we've ever had...Things that are very dear to us--children, schools, services, basic needs.

Rep. Bill Gray (R-Artesia): It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a big sore. Come January everybody will take more of a haircutt.

House Speaker Ben Lujan (D-Santa Fe): Our actions in this session provide the breathing room we need for now before we come back in January. This is part of our job as lawmakers to make the hard decisions.

House Minority Floor Whip Keith Gardner (R-Roswell): I’m disappointed. We still have not managed to fix the problems that we came here to fix. We put a Band-Aid on the problem and patted ourselves on the back and then walked out. We’re going to come back in January and face the same problems that we faced when we showed up here a week ago.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings (D-Roswell): It helps us get going, but it is going to leave us with a huge nut to crack in January. We’re going to have to work really hard and it’s going to be difficult. We can get it all done in January, we’re just going to have to fight real hard to make it work. We’re going to be all right, we’ll take care of it.

Governor Bill will hear public input before deciding what to do with the budget measure. His office said: New Mexicans can contact the Governor’s Office with their thoughts about the budget bills by email: Special.session@state.nm.us or by phone: 505-476-2210.

A lame duck

You need to look no further than the lame-duck pay raises outgoing ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez gave to select employees at City Hall to know you will probably never see his name again on a New Mexico ballot. The raises drew a scathing newspaper editorial and derision all around. But Chavez, who has not yet said what his plans are for after he completes his term November 30, is leaving Government Center like Santa Claus after a chimney dump. Besides the raises to Chavez favorites, an insider points out some other developments in these last days of Marty World:

Reporters should look into these items:
The mayor has bumped some department directors down to their previous jobs, but at the same pay scale. Jay Evans was head of the Parks and Recreation Department, but has moved back to Open Space, from whence he came. His director’s salary went with this long-time friend of the Mayor. Michael Riordan has moved down in the ranks of the Department of Municipal Development, keeping his $100,000+ director’s salary.

These “soft landings” happen all the time, but not usually with such hefty price tags.
The kicker is the new associate director position that was recently created in the Aviation department. Will (Chief Administrative Officer) Ed Adams fill this position, which just happens to be salaried at his current pay rate of $145,000. Sound fishy?

Well, we don't know if it sounds fishy. But it does sound like the outgoing His Honor is pushing to the max the time honored tradition of protecting your friends at the end.

It will be interesting to see how many, if any, high-ranking plum positions new Mayor Berry eliminates. He has plenty of financial reasons to do so, which leads us to...


We appear to be right on the bubble when it comes to furloughs or layoffs of ABQ city government employees. The budget deficit for the budget year that started July 1st is running at about $10 million, according to Councilor Ken Sanchez. That means the city council and new administration will have to trim at least that much from the budget following a December review. That only gives them about six months to do it--until the end of the budget year June 30.

Sanchez and Mayor-elect RJ Berry are saying layoffs are a last resort, but Sanchez is talking increasingly of furloughs as a possible puzzle solver. That's when employees stay home for a week or two without pay but don't lose their jobs. It's happening at budget strapped governments across the country.

Much like state government, Berry needs to review the salary structure. While those holding the nice jobs often tell us that $100,000 a year isn't that much, in the real recession-plagued world those government salaries are seeming quite out sized.


RJ Berry
Meanwhile, Alligators and insiders are questioning why an op-ed piece from Berry's camp popped up in the ABQ Journal Sunday. It extolled the virtues of Berry's first appointments--attorney and Democrat David Campbell as chief administrative officer and Darren White as public safety director. Campbell's nomination to the city's second most powerful position has ignited a behind-the-scenes battle with the nine member city council, which is currently split over the nomination. Berry takes office Dec. 1 and the CAO confirmation hearing will follow.

The drama is being played out on the phone lines (and on this blog) but aside from one Journal story quoting Councilor Brad Winter's opposition to Campbell, this has been an insider baseball game. But with the op-ed piece authored by transition chair Sherman McCorkle, the Berry camp may have given the Campbell foes an opportunity to respond and to make their case against him on a wider platform. That would raise the stakes even higher for the mayor-elect.

Advisers from varied political persuasions are telling us that Berry needs to save the Campbell nomination by good old-fashioned, out-of-the-limelight arm twisting. They point out that former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson endorsed Berry and might be able to play a role in assisting the new mayor to get council R's Dan Lewis, Mike Cook and Brad Winter to support his pick. As we've written earlier, they are saying the same of Darren White who has deep ties to the party. Also, Lewis and Cook shared the same political consultant for their council campaigns, Doug Antoon, who is one of the more vehement opponents of Campbell. Is Berry working that angle with the state GOP?

And what of Brad Winter, once positioned to be the leader of moderate Republicans, but with no flock to lead he went hard-right? There appears to be no compromise left in Winter, once touted as a possible mayor or congressman. The bitterness is palpable; the "what could have beens" stinging like cactus needles. His vote appears gone.

One more thing. Ryan Cangliosi, the acting executive director of the NM GOP, is close to Berry. Will he and GOP Chairman Harvey Yates lend quiet support to the nomination of Dem Campbell or will hard-right R's, shedding no tears over moderate Berry's troubles, rule the day?

Berry is a babe in the political woods when it comes to governing and he may have jumped the gun by not consulting with the council before making the Campbell pick. A failed nomination could cripple the new administration even before it takes its first steps. Now Berry is being forced to find his sea legs early. But he showed keen political instincts in his election bid and with city tradition on his side, insiders think he should be able to pull this nomination out.

(Berry gave his first in-depth interview since becoming mayor-elect. The broadcast aired Sunday on KOB-TV's "Eye on "New Mexico." Video is here.)

After eight years of continous power playing under Mayor Chavez, Albuquerque is ready for executive leadership to be dialed down, but does the city want mayoral drift and lopsided council dominance in its stead? Stay tuned...

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