Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Lobbyists Of Santa Fe: Who's On The "A" List? Plus: On The Scene In Historic Old Town 

Don't expect New Mexico's top lobbyists to be front and center in next month's legislative session. The state faces a severe fiscal crisis and Roundhouse veterans say a good lobbyist knows when to be seen, and this is not one of those times.

The lobbyists will be on hand, of course. They are part of the Santa Fe furniture. Lawmakers come and go but year after year and session after session, the lobbying corps returns. Those around for decades are part of the institutional memory of the place. The best ones don't like to see their names bandied about much, so some of them will cringe to see themselves listed here as we today update the list of key Roundhouse wall-leaners.

Business has been good, but not booming for the lobbying contingent. We're told that most are holding on to the clients they've got, but adding new ones is a challenge as all companies appraise their bottom lines in a tough economy. A top level lobbyist in New Mexico can gross over $250,000 a year. It is a lucrative, but often maddening job, dealing with often hard to handle personalities and new ethics rules, that, if violated, can quickly damage a career.

There's also the significant down time between sessions. There are interim committee meetings to attend, but if you're an action junkie, the lobbyist life, while lucrative, can also be filled with weeks of monotony.


The dean of the lobbying corps is attorney Bob McBride, longtime lobbyist for tobacco company Altria, and a former district court judge and state senator who has been lobbying for decades. Another former state senator and attorney, Tom Rutherford, also makes the list of lobbying notables with clients like Chevron Mining. Former state rep and attorney Dick Minzner is another key player with the University of New Mexico is among his clients. Former Santa Fe state Senator Roman Maes is a familiar sight at the Roundhouse, representing Qwest and others.

Former ABQ State Rep. Tom Horan followed his father into the lobbying game and continues to maintain a lengthy list of clients, including Presbyterian Hospital and Sandia Pueblo. Domonic Silva, son of former ABQ State Rep. Dan Silva, is based in Las Cruces. His clients include NM State University.

It's true that being a former lawmaker gives a lobbyist unique understanding, but it's not a requirement. Also on the list of leading wall-leaners is Dan Weaks who with wife Marla Shoats represents clients like the NM Hospital Association and Bernalillo County. Scott Scanland once sought a seat in the Legislature and today counts Sunland Park Racetrack and Pfizer among his long list of clients.

Lobbyist Mahr
Robert Rivera handles lobbying chores for Ruidoso Downs, and is another Roundhouse denizen insiders point out as being politically savvy. Dan Najar, rarely quoted in public, is another longtime lobbyist who has built a thriving lobbying business that includes clients Intel and Lovelace Healthy Systems. Ed Mahr, 70, is on retainer for the Downs at ABQ and General Electric, among others. He also knows how the media works, having long ago served as the managing editor of the ABQ Journal.

Butch Maki worked for Big Bill before he became governor. His lobbying firm has been high profile at the Roundhouse during the Richardson years with lobbyists like Mark Fleisher representing SunCal and others also playing prominent roles.

Other names that have achieved longevity and results in the lobbying game include attorney John Lee Thompson, Joe Menapace who reps AT&T and J.D. Bullington, who reps numerous clients, including Laguna Development Corp.

Single issue lobbyists of note include Vanessa Alarid, a former executive director of the NM Dem Party, spearheads SunCal's lobbying efforts. Leanne Leith and Sandy Buffet of Conservation Voters NM are leading liberal lobbyists.

Lobbying has grown much more professional in Santa Fe in recent years, and perhaps not quite as much fun. Back in days of yore, leading legislators would hold forth at their favorite bar rooms, fueled by endless rounds of expensive liquor gladly paid for by whatever lobbyist was handy. Today campaign contributions to fund the ever more expensive legislative campaigns is the most common way lobbyists show support. And with a more demanding public and ever more complicated legislation facing state legislators, lobbying is a much more sober undertaking than those days of long ago.


We crashed the gate at Dem light guv candidate Brian Colon's fund-raiser last night. We couldn't wait to see what the historic Armijo House (most recently the Maria Teresa restaurant) on the edge of ABQ's Old Town looked like now that it was renovated, reopened and renamed Casa Esencia. We weren't disappointed. It's a meandering hacienda with wonderful hardwood floors and restored adobe walls that invite you to linger far longer than you intend.

Party goers distributed themselves in cozy rooms in two wings of the Casa which began life in 1783 as the home of Salvador Armijo and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. Sadly, the property sat vacant for five years after the restaurant went bust in 2004, but Heritage Hotels and Resorts which operates the Hotel ABQ next door has brought it back to to life, not as a museum, but as a a home to be enjoyed and shared. A tip of the hat to them.

It was appropriate that we ran into Clara Apodaca, foundation director for the National Hispanic Cultural Center, another building that has breathed new life into a ABQ neighborhood. We told the former first lady (75-79) we'd like a tour to get updated. She agreed and said lunch at the center's La Fonda del Bosque would also be on the agenda.

At Casa Esencia there was no shortage of history to breathe in or food to accompany the festivities. Brian's wife, Aleli, told us there were five food stations set up throughout the home. No, we did not visit all five. But properly sated, we headed into the Old Town night and thought of the fast approaching Christmas season, much like Salvador Armijo may have done on the same spot and on a similar evening over two centuries ago...

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