Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hit Again: NM Jobless Rate At New High; Political Impact Weighed, Plus: An Ortiz y Pino Surprise? Also: Santa Fe Election Post-Mortem & Blogging Raton 

It's not over yet, not by a long shot. We’re still waiting for the New Mexican economy to hit bottom. The most politically sensitive indicator of the state's economic health has climbed yet again, with the US Labor Department now pegging the January jobless rate at 8.5 percent of the work force, a new Great Recession high and creating an even more turbulent backdrop for the embryonic 2010 campaigns now forming for statewide and congressional contests.

The feds say New Mexico had the misfortune of being the state that posted the largest jobless percentage rate increase in the USA in January, a 0.3 percent rise. While the economic boosters have been repeatedly saying that "it's not as bad here as elsewhere," the state is staying true to its long standing tradition of being among the last to catch a trend. In this case it is the recession trend that has ravaged the American nation for going on two years now and sent unemployment and under employment soaring.

The state will report its version of the jobless stats today, but it's clear by just reading the headlines (100 laid off from the Gardunos restaurant chain; mortgage delinquencies setting new highs and real estate values continuing to decline) that we are still in the teeth of this downturn.

All of this makes matters more urgent for the state's Democrats. They are now all holding their breath and awaiting Governor Richardson's forthcoming decision on the hyper-controversial partial reinstatement of the food tax.


That tax passed the recent special session of the Legislature as a budget solving measure, but now threatens to become the poster child for an out of step political class, unleashing a wrath of populist anger reminiscent of 1994 and turning over the Governor's office and perhaps a congressional seat or two to the long-suffering Republicans.

Richardson has until the 24th of this month to make up his mind. He says he is having trouble because he doesn't know if he can veto the food tax without vetoing the entire $230 million plus tax increase package approved by the session. It could mean having to call another special session, with all the political risk that entails.

But vox populi isn't interested in what Bill's lawyers are saying. He blames the Senate for passing it, but Richardson and conservative Senate Dems could have supported an income tax surcharge, an increase in the capital gains rate or even a slight boost in the top income tax rate. He didn't and a food tax ended up on his desk.

Is it hyperbole to declare that the situation for the Dems is now bordering on the dire? That the GOP Guv field is unknown and inexperienced seems to be providing the only succor to the party in the power.

Richardson has raised expectations for a veto by saying he "hates" the food tax. If he doesn't come through with a veto and show that his sympathies and those of his majority party are with the thousands of New Mexicans out of work and the thousands more struggling to make ends meet, the Republicans may have an historic opportunity to take power in Santa Fe.


Again it is TV news with the human angle on this generation's big economic story, showing the faces and telling the stories behind the numbers. They're interviewing the construction workers and butchers who are trying to raise families but are caught in this downturn. Where are the stories of these people in the dead-tree press?


Lots of feedback to the Alligator handicapping here Wednesday of Saturday's Dem preprimary convention. Several operatives say they now see movement toward ABQ State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino in that five way race for Lt. Governor. They say his strength may be underestimated and that they wouldn't be surprised if he gets over the 20 percent of the delegates needed to win an official spot on the June 1st primary ballot.

Ortiz y Pino had good showings at several county conventions that send delegates to the preprimary, including Bernalillo and Rio Arriba counties. He is the most liberal of the light Guv hopefuls and liberals traditionally participate at a high level in grassroots activities like the preprimary. But Ortiz y Pino is taking hits from his own fan club for his down the line support of the reinstatement of the dreaded food tax.

If Ortiz y Pino can pull off a surprise Saturday, the next question will be whether he can raise the money to compete in the race. So far, his fundraising has lagged far behind that of Brian Colon and Lawrence Rael.


That resignation letter from former Bureau of Elections director AJ Salazar accusing Secretary of State Mary Herrera of running a "crooked" operation is posted in all its gory detail, courtesy of the Rio Grande Sun. Salazar resigned. Herrera denies his charges and the matter has landed in the lap of the attorney general. Sounds like New Mexico politicos is chugging along as usual. Mary doesn't have a Dem primary foe.

Asenath Kepler
Defeated Santa Fe mayoral candidate Asenath Kepler, a former city attorney and city manager there, writes to us in the aftermath of her 58% to 34% loss to Mayor David Coss (Miguel Chavez received 8 percent). She doesn't seem ready to retire from the political scene:

Now that the dust has settled from the mayoral election, I have a couple of thoughts to share with you.

We ran an honorable, issue-oriented, grassroots campaign. Our committee was a broad political and socio-economic cross-section of Santa Fe, and we tried to get everyone in “the Big Tent.” Despite being outspent by over $100,000, we took about 34% of the vote...We also changed the dialogue up here, and inspired many to demand that local government be more transparent...

As David Gergen said, “A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there.” That was what our campaign was all about, and hopefully will be again some day.

Take care, and have fun as we head into “high” political season!

Kepler focused her campaign on the economy and Santa Fe's severe challenges in that regard. She could not pin the blame on Mayor Coss who was given a big vote of confidence and gets congratulations.

The mayoral campaign did seem to accelerate acceptance of the theory that the old paradigm of ever increasing tourism and housing prices is antiquated. In that sense Kepler's losing campaign helped Santa Fe. It may even help Mayor Coss as he again turns his attention to the city's pressing economic concerns.


Sharon Neiderman writes us from Raton that she is now blogging under the title "Embracing the North" and is tracking the comings and goings of the politicos in Colfax County.

Sharon is a writer and journalist of long standing here, and in the past has specialized in cuisine, travel, history, women’s issues and spirituality. Her latest book project is: "Shrines and Signs: Spiritual Journeys Across New Mexico."

She moved to Raton, her husband's hometown, from ABQ about a year and a half ago. We've asked her to keep her eye on that planned racino for Raton that is having so much trouble getting up and running.


We kindled some memories for reader Charles Sullivan when we blogged Wednesday of that 1980 US House race between Bill Richardson and Republican incumbent Manuel Lujan:

My recollection is that Richardson lost to Lujan by only about 5,000 votes. I think that was the night that national TV political pundits projected at about 7:00 PM Eastern time that Reagan was going to win big. As a result, thousands of Dems in the western US decided not to go to the polls for late voting. That may have been the difference in the Lujan-Richardson election.

That's how I recall it as well, Charles. Exit polling spread like wild fire in the early afternoon showing Jimmy Carter would lose. Out here in the Mountain West it meant some folks stayed home. Whether it was the deciding factor in the Lujan-Richardson race is hidden in the mists of history...

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