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Monday, March 08, 2010

Di Launches "Operation Separation;" She Disses Bill & He Disses Back, Plus: Taxes & Campaign '10: The Dems Struggle, And: Capturing The NM Zeitgeist 

Di & Bill--Happier Times
Diane Denish's Operation Separation is off the launch pad and not a moment too soon for jittery Dems. The Light Guv began what will be a long and arduous effort to distance herself from the Governor she has served under for eight years by sharply attacking a state application for federal education funds that was found wanting and rejected. She called the state effort “lackluster” and “inexcusable.” Big Bill fired back that Di’s comments were “inappropriate, misinformed and unproductive."

Game On.

It's the first major public disagreement of Campaign 2010 between the state's #1 and #2 and earned a banner headline with photos in Saturday's fish wrapper. And it came only days after a devastating poll for the Governor, showing his approval rating plunging to a record low of 28%. Even if the accuracy of the poll from Public Policy Polling in DC is questioned, you can add ten points to Bill's numbers and he is still short of 40%.

This is adding urgency to the conversation when you talk with top Democrats about the governor's race. They say Denish not only needs to separate herself from Richardson, but also from last week's special legislative session that may be shaping up as politically disastrous for the state's majority party. Over $230 million in tax increases were approved, including the loathed and anti-populist food tax.

Denish's supporters point to her earlier statements rejecting taxes on "working families" but the political professionals retort that she has yet to express her views on the special session tax increases.

One top elected Dem told us he would have advised Denish to have conducted a news conference immediately after the conclusion of the special session, condemning the budget agreement, urging the Governor to veto the budget package and to call the lawmakers back.

That would be a bold move when the mood in the Denish camp still seems tentative as they continue to take the temperature of an ultra-moody (and angry) electorate. It is a delicate and dangerous balancing act.

But Operation Separation is going to be a lengthy, eight month ordeal. We suspect by the time it's over, Di will be disagreeing with Bill about everything from that education grant to whether you should pour red or green chile over your enchiladas.

CONSPIRACY WATCH

To the emailers who say Di and Bill will conspire over Operation Separation by consulting one another on which topics she will use to drive a wedge between the two, you have our blessing if not our belief.

THE GOP BEAT

Those who would not only like to see Bill and Di divided, but the Dems driven out of the Guv's office all together, are busy preparing for this weekend's GOP preprimary convention (The Dems also have theirs this Saturday). Three of the five GOP hopefuls are now on the radio airwaves--Allen Weh, Doug Turner and Janice Arnold-Jones.

Only about 450 delegates will be at the GOP preprimary, but the radio is inexpensive and gives the candidates a profile among the delegates before they cast their votes Saturday to determine who will get an official spot on the June 1 primary ballot.

¡VIVA LA REVOLUCION!

Now back to the revolution. The New Mexican says of the food tax fiasco:

The governor should veto the food tax. He'd be doing a favor to our state representatives, all of whose 70 seats are up for re-election this year. Let 'em return to Santa Fe — to their senses, too — and impose some less-unpopular taxes.

Veteran Las Cruces newsman Walt Rubel came with this:

It may require additional spending cuts, but Richardson would do New Mexico families a favor by vetoing the food tax.

And Attorney General Gary King, facing a re-election challenge from Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler, has donned his jogging suit and is running fast and hard against the food tax. Tax booze, not food, argues the AG:

I don't see alcohol that's something that's necessary to survive, and that's why we talk about these as ‘sin taxes’ because they are taxes on products that people want to consume, but don't have to consume.”

You wouldn't think a food tax would be an issue in a race for attorney general. That it is gives you an idea of what's going on out there.

And the attorney general's remarks are especially poignant coming as they do in the wake of Friday night's drunken slaughter of two Native American sisters on Santa Fe's Cerrillos Road. The man arrested has three previous DWI convictions. But Santa Fe worked overtime to discourage Tortilla abuse?

DEEPER THINKING

Let's delve deeper into the politics of the food tax. An insider writes:

Both Senator Sharer (R-San Juan) and Rep. Larranaga (R-ABQ) offered floor amendments in both chambers stripping the food tax from the larger tax package and got roll call votes. It wasn't totally party line voting. For example, Senator McSorley (D-ABQ) and Rep Kiki Saavedra (D-Bernalillo) voted with the Republicans to take the food tax out of the bill as well as five other House Democrats--Reps. Rodefer, Giannini, Madalena, Stapleton and Steinborn)...

The vote of Saavedra, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is noteworthy. He has been on the whisper list as possibly drawing a progressive Dem primary opponent. None has materialized and Saavedra's vote is seen as keeping any prospective Dem foe at bay. The nomination is the game for him. His district is heavy Dem and the R's won't have much of a shot in November.

For freshman ABQ area Reps. Rodefer and Giannini the thumbs down on the food tax was a clear play against their Republican foes in November. Neither should draw Dem primary challenges, but their districts were traditional R areas until the Obama wave hit Bernalillo County in 2008. The two newcomers are seen as the most likely to lose their seats to the GOP this year.

Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces has some seniority in his swing district--he is going for his third term--but the R's keep coming at him with good opponents. His vote against the food tax is aimed at fending off his November GOP rival.

Richardson told TV news he "hates" the partial reinstatement of the food tax. But will he do something other than gnash his teeth, like cast a veto?

Filing date for the legislative seats is March 16. All 70 House lawmakers are up for election and we will know then who they face in both the June primary and the November election.

THAT OTHER TAX

The R's are sure to hit hard on another tax hike the Dems approved in the special session. It requires that a taxpayer who itemizes his deductions add back the state income tax that is deductible for federal tax purposes before computing tax on that income for NM.

This was intended to get more taxes from high-income earners, not just the middle and lower classes who are going to take more pain than the wealthy from the food tax increase and a boost of an eighth of a cent in the overall gross receipts tax. Experts weighing in here Friday agreed the well-off would take the brunt of the hit from the deduction elimination, but many thousands of New Mexicans who don't have high-incomes will also be paying more.

A reader emails an example that could get the GOP in front of middle class voters who normally shun anything with an "R" in it:

The fundamental flaw with taxing the tax is that very often people itemize their tax returns because they have high medical expenses versus their income and also have a high percentage of interest payments on their mortgage (basically anyone who's mortgage is ten years or newer) plus property tax. Neither one of those means you have lots of money. In fact, their symptomatic of the middle class.

New Mexico to become fiscally sound needs to break away from our unique reliance on the gross receipts tax. It's a bad mechanism especially when the economy is off, which it will be for a while. Where are the guts to be honest about the need to find a better way?

Guts? Find a better way? Not until Santa Fe stops putting up funny numbers and calling them realistic revenue projections. And not until Santa Fe recognizes that the New Mexico economic era of soaring energy revenues, giddy housing prices and go-go consumer spending is not going to soon return. But who wants to leave the party to go to a funeral?

THE ZEITGEIST

We've been searching for the phrase that sums up New Mexico's current political zeitgeist. We thought we had it the other day while driving, but Frank came on our XM belting out this tune and we lost the thought. But then we stumbled upon it while scanning the editorial pages of the Ruidoso News and their take on the recent village election. It's "independent populism:"

When Mayor-Elect Ray Alborn explicitly opposed a hike in the gross receipts tax to subsidize the racino at Ruidoso Downs, he channeled taxpayer concern over the notion of "corporate welfare." This is not a season for politics as usual. By taking a stand - one that he figured might doom his chances - Alborn resonated among voters as an independent populist who speaks his mind.

Who are the "independent populists" running for statewide office this year?

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

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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