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Monday, August 16, 2010

Martinez Continues March To Middle; Pledges No Medicaid Cuts, Plus: Her Corruption Campaign Hits Pothole; Our In-Depth Analysis of These Moves & More 

With little fanfare but with far-reaching consequences if is she is elected the next governor, GOP Guv nominee Susana Martinez continues her march to the middle of the political spectrum.

Martinez, who earlier broke with fiscal conservatives and pledged not to cut the public schools budget, has now added to her no cut list the massive state Medicaid program. Throw in her new position against school vouchers and you have a GOP candidate who has moved decidedly away from the right wing of her party as well as the Republican leadership in the New Mexico Legislature.

As we have seen so often over the decades, it is the state that defines the candidate, not vice-versa.

Martinez can be accused of abandoning conservative principles or praised as a realistic politician who is showing an ability to forge compromise and move the state forward. Take your pick.

Politically, education and health care are of notable interest to female voters. They will outnumber men at the polls in November--probably about 55% to 45%--and Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish is counting on them to put her over the top. Polls show her sporting a large lead with them.

The public schools and Medicaid together represent nearly 60% of the state budget. (Higher education consumes another 15 percent). Despite immense budget shortfalls they have been spared from the budget knife by an injection of federal stimulus funds and by historically strong political support.

The state faces yearly deficits in the hundreds of millions for the foreseeable future, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. By taking so much off the table a Governor Martinez (or Governor Denish) will be faced with making 100% of their cuts from 40% of the budget.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Martinez's revealing position on Medicaid came with little notice, dropping as it did in the middle of a news article on the state budget cuts being implemented next month:

"As governor, I will not support cutting education or Medicaid, but will not hesitate to cut waste from the rest of the budget in order to get New Mexico's financial house back in order," Martinez said.

Martinez's web site does not say she is against cutting the Medicaid budget. It says:

Our Medicaid dollars have been spread thin and we need to re-focus on core priorities, such as protecting our children, while rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the system.

Medicaid provides health care for New Mexico children and low-income and disabled adults. In this poverty stricken state, over 400,000 residents are now enrolled in the program at a cost of over $600 million a year and rising rapidly. The no-end-in-sight recession ravaging the state can only inflate those numbers.

MEDICAID POLITICS

Much of Medicaid's benefits are determined by federal eligibility standards. The Legislature has been toying with curbing some benefits such as dental and eye care that are outside federal purview, but Santa Fe's majority Dems have shown little stomach for Medicaid cuts. The program is now a crucial part of the social fabric for nearly 25 percent of the state's population. This is a huge constituency.

A budget conundrum is another reason Medicaid is difficult to cut. For each dollar the state puts up, the federal government gives us three more. When you cut a dollar from Medicaid, you are actually cutting four dollars.

While Martinez says no cuts to Medicaid, she conceivably leaves herself wiggle room on what services the program would provide, perhaps saving money in that regard.

But, like Democrat Denish, the wannabe chief executive from Las Cruces has two very plump sacred cows on her list. If she is elected in November, their presence on the Fourth Floor will most assuredly limit her ability to maneuver and implement the "bold change" she asserts she would bring to Santa Fe.

DI DOES IT TOO

Martinez has had to move to the center to broaden the appeal of her candidacy and Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish has had to move to the right to shed left-wing baggage.

So far, Di has said she is against the issuance of driver's licenses to immigrants and is open to reevaluating the Pit Rule--an environmental standard that has the GOP dominated oil and gas industry in an uproar.

Historically, New Mexico's diversity has forced its statewide politicos to forge compromise and seek succor in the center. Based on the budget statements of Martinez, we now know that election 2010--in the main--will not alter that dynamic.

Because Martinez was faced with a very conservative GOP Guv primary, her move to the middle has had more anguish than Denish's who was unopposed for her party's nomination (Denish is now taking a more populist tone as the campaign nears its peak weeks).

That Martinez is causing second guessing among the faithful was evidenced last week on conservative talk radio KKOB-AM radio as a series of callers to Scott Stiegler's evening show complained of her new stance on school vouchers. Several said they are disappointed in her because she is coming across like any other politician, not an agent of change.

THE CORRUPTION STORY

A flagship issue for Martinez has been state corruption and her pledge to clean it up. That goal is shared by the state's largest newspaper, the ABQ Journal, but it is in that paper where Martinez is now taking a hit.

The editorial pages of the Journal turned decidedly less enthusiastic Saturday over the GOP standardbearer. The paper came with a critical editorial of Martinez, saying a $60,000 office supply contract she signed with an employee in her Dona Ana County district attorney's office doesn't pass "the smell test."

While $60,000 worth of copy paper and Sharpies is peanuts compared to what has gone on in Santa Fe, it smacks of the kind of insider dealing voters are sick of and that the crime-fighting Martinez vows to clean up.

The fact she still sees nothing wrong with the office supply arrangement, or how it looks, begs the question of whether she's up to the task of turning around New Mexico's culture of corruption.

The Journal has made state corruption a banner issue and has had high hopes for prosecutor Martinez. But their faith has been shaken. Their slap at Martinez for being hypocritical plays into the Democratic meme that while Martinez poses as an outsider she is in reality just another politician.

The paper and anti-corruption fighters across the state were particularly taken aback when Martinez said that, if elected, she would do the insider deal again. Back to the editorial:

Martinez says the deal was disclosed to the secretary of state and in audits and that it saved the taxpayers money. She says this was a good deal and that she would do the same thing as governor if it were done transparently and saved money.

With stuff like that, Martinez's Eliot Ness credentials are looking a bit tattered.

Meantime, Janetta Hicks, now the district attorney for the Roswell area and the Martinez aide who got the $60,000 contract, defended it in an interview with the Roswell Daily Record.

“I could offer products to the DA’s office at a cheaper price,” said Hicks, who was elected in 2008 to the 5th Judicial District that encompasses Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties.

“When I had the cheapest price, they bought from me. When I didn’t, they didn’t, and that’s kind of the bottom line,” she said, describing Titan as “something on the ... side.”

MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKING

Martinez's move to the middle was anticipated by the political pros who argue the R'S have been left practically homeless because of their too conservative leanings. But the pros also say Martinez, a neophyte on the statewide scene, could benefit from more finesse as she makes her moves.

For example, on her switch on school vouchers. Why not come out for an experimental program that would limit the number of such vouchers and thus the amount of money that would come out of the public school budget? That would assuage her right-wing while still scoring points with Dems. Also, By nixing the vouchers outright she brought into play that damning videotape of her supporting vouchers at an Otero County appearance. The Dems, like that Journal editorial, will use that to hammer the hypocrisy angle.

On Medicaid, why say outright you are exempting the program from cuts? Argue for reforms that could save money, but don't box yourself in.

On the corruption issue, why insist that you would do the same controversial contract deal as governor that you did as district attorney, especially since such deals have since been outlawed? That seems arrogant and a threat to the press which is pining for more transparency and less insider dealing. The statement was simply unnecessary.

As we've blogged, top insider R's are confident that Martinez has a commanding lead and that she can surf into the Fourth Floor on a wave of anger and voter discontent with "Richardson-Denish" and the dreary economy.

But the cracks in the Martinez dam argue for the Republicans paying a lot more attention to the day-to-day campaign and much less to their daily polling numbers.

IN THE NORTH
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As Martinez dealt with bumps in the road from the right-wing of her own party as well as the editorial writers, she could take heart in a very healthy turnout in liberal and Democratic Taos. It's reported that some 400 came for a rally there for the GOP state candidates last Sunday, including Susana.

Is that a sign of Martinez's appeal in the heavy Dem north? The Bernallio County Democratic Party seems to thing there is reason for alarm. In a recent newsletter they came with this:

When you talk to someone and they say they are voting for Susana Martinez because of her name - tell them it's not about the name. Tell them it's about what Diane brings to the table, about what Diane has accomplished and what Diane will accomplish once she's in office.

This will be the week we have the first joint appearance by Martinez and Denish. While the Thursday, August 19 event won't be televised, we are told that KANW 89.1 FM radio will air the gubernatorial hopefuls live. The station can be heard in ABQ and a large swath of north central New Mexico. It also streams its programming live on the net, so Guv watchers everywhere will be able to follow all the action.

The Martinez-Denish appearance will be moderated by ABQ Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks and will focus on education. There's a lot to cover.

On that topic, one of our Alligators came with this:

Even without the new Federal stimulus money APS had the money to not layoff any teachers if they had been hit with the 3.2 % hit that other state agencies will get.

Don’t believe the hype. When APS says its going to layoff 1000 employees and then three retire and they then call it a miracle balanced budget---please. It's common practice for the larger schools to pigeon hole extra money in various accounts so it won't be reverted.


When in doubt ask for the inside info...Who loves you Joe?


Those Gators are getting feisty. Must be the summer heat....

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