Monday, January 17, 2011

Selling The Coalition: Pros And Cons Weighed On Eve Of Legislative Session 2011. Plus: The Insider Wheeling And Dealing, And: My Holiday Bottom Lines 

"Speaker" Cervantes?
Insiders, Alligators and former legislators say coalition rule of the New Mexican House of Representatives appears to come down to whether enough R's can live under a Democratic speaker without any committee chairmanships or equal representation on House committees.

Making this more fun to watch is that more Democrats could be willing to cross over and form a coalition with the R's as long as they kept the committee chairs. One insider points out recent conciliatory statements from top Dems about the new Republican Governor's budget could be telegraphing support for a coalition speaker. He adds:

I don't think the R's care about chairmanships since the number of Dems and R's are so close (37 Dems to 33 R's). But the veteran Dems do care so if they are promised no changes, maybe a coalition is more likely. It then becomes more of a personal referendum between (Speaker Ben) Lujan and (Dem Dona Ana County State Rep. Joe) Cervantes

The R's are meeting at the capitol today to try to sort out the mess, but the final speaker outcome won't be known until noon Tuesday when the Legislature convenes for a sixty day session.

There are 33 Republicans and 37 Dems in the House, the closest partisan divide in decades.


Coalition speaker candidate Rep. Joe Cervantes is not agreeing to give R's any committee chairs. If not chairmanships, then some R's are arguing he could have House committees with "equal representation" among Dems and R's. Under that scenario the R's could conceivably kill legislation with tie votes.

The state Senate currently has a coalition of R's and Dems, but the minority R's there do not chair any committees or have equal party representation on committees.

If enough House R's remain wary of a coalition speakership without committee chairs, the drive for a coalition could end in deadlock and the effort could be abandoned before the opening gavel comes down.

Cervantes supporters have been taking a page from Susana's book and predicting "bold change." They think enough Dems will defect to Joe to offset any R defections. The betting line is not crystal clear, but Dona Ana Joe's forces seem ready to test out the speaker's chair with Dem Rep Andy Nunez predicting "this one is in the bag" for Cervantes.


The problem for new R members in particular is selling the coalition to their conservative constituencies. They are being told that even a coalition without R committee chairs will strengthen their hand when it's time to redistrict the congressional and legislative seats later this year. They are also being told that a coalition speaker like Cervantes would be more fair with them than Speaker Ben Lujan who would be ousted if Cervantes prevailed.

However, seasoned Republicans point out that the speaker won't have that much say in the redistricting process and besides, the R's have a GOP governor who can veto any redistricting plan that hurts them. Also, it would not be unusual for redistricting to ultimately be decided by the courts.


Insiders speculate that Governor Martinez, behind the scenes, could be making a play for GOP support for a coalition by striking a deal or two with reluctant GOP legislators on the future shape of their legislative districts or other promised goodies.

Also seen giving impetus to a coalition is the role of Martinez chief of staff and former GOP State Rep. Keith Gardner. He is no longer the House Minority Whip, but he still has very close ties to the GOP caucus.

The angles in this game go on and on.

As to the power of the speaker to decide which legislation gets on to the floor, how much of the GOP agenda would a Speaker Cervantes push? No doubt that is also the subject of last minute negotiations. He could pick up reluctant R's by pledging to back some of their bills.


GOP voters back home have zero interest in the esoteric issue of redistricting or whether the politicians play fair with one another. They want meat and potatoes on fiscal and social policy. Cervantes is seen as somewhat fiscally conservative but not a social or cultural conservative. He would not deliver on those issues.

Perhaps the best way for R's to sell the coalition is in generic terms--that it represents the "bold change" that voters sought in the last election and that the ouster of longtime liberal Dem Speaker Lujan is itself a worthy goal--even if it a means a speaker who might only give them a slice of the loaf.

This broad-brush approach could prove more appealing to rank and file GOP voters than the muddled picture they would otherwise get and that could put GOP reps at risk for primary challenges in two years.

No matter who takes the speaker's chair--and the betting line is not crystal clear--the fundamental fact remains--New Mexico's politicians are poised for another legislative session in which they take an incremental approach to the financial crunch facing the state. That became clear when the Governor and Legislative Finance Committee both released similar budgets.


The papers came over the weekend with their previews of Legislative session 2011 that kicks off Tuesday. They are here , here and here. The AP opener is here...

Brigette Russell, an education bill analyst for the House Republicans, joins the conservative Capitol Report to write a weekly column on the legislative session. Also penning his thoughts there will be former Santa Fe Dem State Senator John Grubesic...

Bernalillo County Republicans are congratulating attorney Chris Collins for his election this weekend as chairman of the county party. Also getting kudos are Rhead Story, elected county First Vice-Chair; Colin Hunter 2nd Vice-Chair; Winnie Schmidt as Secretary and Treasurer John Kubiak...

They came out in droves Saturday in Clovis--about 600--for the 19th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Breakfast. Today, of course, is a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. Interested in advertising here? Drop us a line.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author
website design by limwebdesign