Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Roundhouse Action Report: Insiders Come With Behind-The-Scenes Blog Info, Plus: Overriding Big Bill, And: Deconstructing Denish; The Campaign Thus Far 

Time for some deep insider notes from the Roundhouse as we approach the heart of Legislature 2010. Our Alligators and wall-leaners are on the job during what may be the most critical legislative session of them all.

First, something that will come as no surprise--the insider take on the fate of that House-approved half percent increase in the state's gross receipts tax when it is taken up in the Senate:

Key Senate Dems assure us the gross receipts tax increase is going nowhere. The inevitable conference committee proceedings between the House and Senate will be public for the first time. Although plenty will still happen behind closed doors, the final actions to amend any tax bills or the budget will take place in open committee.


The big tax votes were on increasing that gross receipts levy and slapping a 1.5% surcharge on the income tax of the highest earning taxpayers. Back to the Roundhouse and this Gator take:

The big tax votes of swing state House Democrats last week could make things easier for the Republicans. Rep. Jeff Steinborn Dona Ana) and Rep. Ben Rodefer (D-Bernallio and Sandoval) very noticeably voted with fiscally conservative Dems against the (gross receipts and income tax surcharge) tax hikes. They are evidently now running away from liberal past voting records.

Both are politically astute but may have election opponents willing to go back a year or more and look at their recorded votes. Rep. Elias Barela (D-Valencia) also voted with the conservative House Dems, despite sending mixed signals. Rep. Al Park (D-Bernalilo) has been noticeably and more fiscally conservative in the past two years, and his conversion appears genuine.

The Steinborn and Rodefer seats are in play for the Republicans. Rep. Park is safe but is a new father and also ratcheting up a law practice, Those developments may be making this lawmaker, long referred to here as a "leading liberal" more conservative moving forward.


He wields the power baton well, if not always to wild applause. Deep inside now the Speaker's tax movida:

House Speaker Ben Lujan (D-Sana Fe) is still holding it together but took a very big risk, passing his gross receipts tax increase by two votes. Fortunately, with two Republicans gone, and by hiding two Dems in their offices (Reps. Giannini and Picraux) who were planning to vote no, his dicey gamble paid off. Without weeks of arm twisting in caucus and clever last minute maneuvers, the tax bill would have gone down and the House would have been back to the drawing board on the budget late in the session.

While Ben sure knows how to count votes, his plan came very close to collapsing when the two hidden Dems were brought in by the Seargent-at-Arms. There were curses exchanged and the two Dems were hustled quickly out of the chambers despite a "call of the House." Expect the R's to propose a House rule to clarify what constitutes a "call of the House"


While Park appears to be getting more conservative, longtime ABQ South Valley State Rep. Kiki Saavedra (D-Bernalilo & Valencia) chairman of the crucial House Appropriations Committee, appears to be getting more liberal. Our Alligator reports:

Some suspect that Kiki, formerly quite conservative on finances, is worried about being outflanked on the left like his old friend Dan Silva who was defeated by a liberal primary opponent two years ago. Kiki has noticeably swung left this session, hoping to avoid the wrath of progressives as well as any primary opponent.

So far, there is no announced primary opponent for Kiki, and if he doesn't get one, he will be on easy street for another re-election in the heavy Dem district.

Well, it doesn't get any insider than than that, sports fans. Coming up tomorrow even more exclusive stuff on legislative action and positioning. We fed those Alligators a fresh batch of red meat and they're producing.


The second term malaise continues for Big Bill. The state Senate Monday for the first time was seen overriding a Bill veto. That's the first time in eight years! No telling if the House will go along with the override of this piece of legislation that would require the administration to turn over to the Legislature confidential info about Medicaid.

House Speaker Lujan will probably hold the line and not let the override vote onto the floor. But the mere fact that there was an override in the Senate (the House overrode a Bill veto once in 2004) speaks to the Guv's status. The bill that was overridden did originally pass both House and Senate unanimously, taking some of the sting out of yesterday's rebuke of the Guv, but it still illustrates that he is indeed a lame-duck and the power now starts to drip away like a leaky faucet. It doesn't help that he has tried to keep his fingerprints off much of this budget crisis lawmakers must deal with.

There could even be more override attempts as grouchy legislators, still nowhere near a budget deal, take out some of the frustration on the Guv. The reassertion of legislative branch power is long overdue. Veteran observers like syndicated columnist Jay Miller say this Guv has gobbled up more power than any of his predecessors. Time to give back and that means the next Governor will have a legislature much less compliant than Richardson had, especially during his heyday.


Light Guv Diane Denish will turn in some 10,000 nominating petition signatures at the Secretary of State's office today, easily surpassing the 2,162 needed to earn consideration for the June 1 primary ballot at next month's Dem preprimary nominating convention. But a front runner needs to show muscle, so the 10,000 signatures, while impressive, are almost mandatory these days. She will mark the occasion at a breakfast for supporters at the Inn of the Governors. That's a name that has a certain ring to it if you are shopping at Tema for new Fourth Floor furniture.

Denish has no announced Dem primary opposition, so we will have to look for any surprise candidate filings elsewhere. On second thought, do you think Val Kilmer might show at the last minute?


Today is the deadline for all statewide candidates of both major parties such as governor, attorney general and land commissioner to file the necessary petition signatures. If you come up short, you can bypass the preprimary convention by submitting more petition signatures and your name will still be placed on the ballot. The trouble is that no major candidate in recent memory has ever gone on to win a primary without getting 20 percent of the delegates at the preprimary.


Is Di trigger happy and prone to panic or playing good offense? That's the question that holds some fascination for the chattering classes as they assess the early going gubernatorial goings on. It arises because of the Lieutenant Governor's very public break with House Speaker Ben Lujan over his support of a half percent increase n the gross receipts tax which now awaits Senate action. Denish says if there's a tie vote over the bill in the Senate--she would use her tie-breaking power to vote against it. That's very unlikely, but the political message gets through.

Di's diss of the Speaker comes on the heels of her slapping around Pete Domenici Jr., the most recent arrival in the GOP Guv race. She did not hit the ex-Senator's son by name, instead panning him by saying at a January legislative dinner, "we can't afford a governor who has a name but not...ideas.

Denish's hit was too hard edged for her critics, who say she could make her differences know without alienating Lujan and perhaps further damaging her relationship with Dem Hispanics which over the years has often been tenuous. Those who support the tough, anti-tax Di say she is simply reading the tea leaves and must break with the most liberal elements of her party or face doom at the polls in November.

Still others look at the chess board down the road and say Denish may be sacrificing more than she gets. By going so hard on the Lujan tax hike, she may not be thinking enough of him being Speaker if she gets elected governor and retaining the ability to stop her her before she gets started.

The Domenici hit was another example of Di getting out front early and with the critics saying she hit too hard while supporters declared--welcome to the new politics--where defining your opponent first--even when you are favored--is now de rigueur.


Maybe the Light Guv has yet to hit her full campaign stride, but she is not acting like someone who has the race won, a notion heard making the rounds before the Massachusetts Senate upset and the entry of Domenici.

Others chime in and ask what folks expect Denish to do? The R's are doing their best to wrap her in the worst ethical mishaps of Big Bill's administration, the state budget crisis is spinning out of control and the mood of the electorate toward anything that even looks like an incumbent continues to sour.

Denish has a public profile as a low-key, thoughtful persona, but some may forget that she ran very tough attack campaigns years ago to get where she is. She is now playing on her biggest stage ever, but she has the experience to calculate her moves and the track record to go with it. What some may read as panic can more easily be seen as urgent responses to the mood swings and volatility of Election 2010.


Remember Howard Dean? The former chair of the national Dems and 2004 prez contender is in the state today, raising funds for the state party. The medical doctor has remained active in the national debate on health care, and is well-liked among liberals who carried his banner high. Some visit details"

2:30-3:30pm: Rally on
UNM campus. The event is free to the public and will be held in the UNM Student Union Theater. Space is limited.

And maybe you can crash this sold-out event:

6:30-8:00pm: Private Reception at Rio Chama in Santa Fe. $250/guest; call Sisy Garcia at 505-830-3650 to reserve tickets.

If they're serving prime rib and you're gate-crashing, call me and we'll try to sneak in the back door together.

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