Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Santa Fe Session: A Reprieve From The Boredom, Plus: Veteran Politico Has Early Handicapping Of Senate Race, And: Stuart Ingle Is No Tea Partier 

There was a flurry of activity at the Roundhouse Wednesday (see below) that broke the capitol monotony for a couple of hours, but there's no denying that this has been as boring a 60 day legislative session as anyone has seen. How boring? You need the Thesaurus to find the many ways:

bromidic, bummer, characterless, cloying, colorless, commonplace, dead, drab, drag, drudging, dull, flat, ho hum, humdrum, insipid, interminable, irksome, lifeless, monotonous, moth-eaten, mundane, nothing, nowhere, platitudinous, plebeian, prosaic...

Okay, you get the idea. Of course, when the session concludes we will hear of all its glorious accomplishments from the powers that be. Not that any of it will have much to do with lowering the state unemployment rate or putting some new life into our moribund economy.

What are we to make of this lifelessness? That the political class is intellectually exhausted by the endless recession? That there is a Republican Governor? That after eight years of Richardson, there is nothing more to pass, but just bills to pay?

We'd say all of the above and add that the state currently seems featureless. The optimism is gone, but neither does pessimism reign. It's like a semi-catatonic state where somehow things get done but not much of anything changes.

Maybe $100 a barrel oil will perk up the party. It won't hurt, but the main energy-related driver for the state treasury is natural gas--for every ten cent rise we get about $12 million--and that remains in a major bear market. And then there's the downside of the oil pop--those sky-high gas prices that are going to keep people home more and spending less.

And who are those economists telling the Legislature that the price of natural gas is going to go to $5.75 when it has been at or below $4? Sounds like Santa Fe is once again setting us up for another budget shortfall.

Meanwhile, the 112 lawmakers are moving toward adopting a budget--whether an overly optimistic one or not. The $5.4 billion measure passed the House by one vote. But the majority Dems could not get the votes to increase the film rebate cap to $60 million from the previously approved $45 million. Dem defectors Sandra Jeff and Dona Irwin voted with the R's. Both are from outside the Rio Grande corridor where the industry thrives. The vote again showed what a shaky hold the Dems have on the lower chamber now that the R's have more members--33 out of 70--than at anytime in the modern era.

The $15 million in a $5.4 billion budget is a drop in the bucket, but the stink raised over it could undercut a burgeoning industry. Sadly, that could be what this session is most remembered for. If it happens we expect political repercussions for the R's in always job-starved New Mexico.

Last night Speaker Lujan shut down the action and the House adjourned just as faux Republican Rep. Andy Nunez tried to resurrect the wedge issue du jour--repealing driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. The Governor and her political advisers are besides themselves to get every Democrat on record voting not to repeal, thinking this is the Holy Grail of the 2012 election. As if in preparation, they even passed around a video of the closing chaotic moments of the House session. And we thought jobs, the economy and health care were the concerns of most New Mexicans. Silly us.

Regardless, it doesn't appear the Guv is going to get her way. Even if the repeal bill is blasted out of the House today it would likely be put to its grave in the Senate. (Don't hold us to that). But a House vote would still give the Martinez consultants their 30 second campaign spot. And, of course, that's what's really important, right? Well, it is when you are trying to run the best campaign, but not necessarily the best government.


The AP reports the budget trims $155 million from this year's budget so will we stop hearing boasts from the executive branch that they are addressing a $450 million shortfall? Don't count on it. But if we don't get the economy humming and continue to overestimate how much money we will bring in then we might yet get back to that $450 million figure.

The budget now goes to the Senate. They better not act too quickly or they won't have anything left to do for the final two weeks.


Who's hot and who's not? We asked veteran political observer and NM talk radio pioneer Mike Santullo to take an early look at the 2012 race for the US Senate. First the Dems:

Rep. Martin Heinrich---He could pull away from the field if he comes strong out of the gate with his fund-raising. I do see him pulling the trigger. National Dems could help him clear the field.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan--He would be the major threat to a Heinrich nomination, but I don't see him going. If he did, it would tear the party from limb to limb

Marty Chavez--Does he have one more left in him? If Heinrich stayed out, he could. He would be a strong general election candidate. The primary is problematic.

Diane Denish--Again, it's the Heinrich card. If it's not played, she gets to play.

Hector Balderas--Very difficult, and I am betting he does not go all in but builds name ID for a '14 attorney general run.


Santullo came with this tip sheet for the Republicans:

Heather Wilson--She is not looking as inevitable as she was. Steve Pearce has gutted her with that letter sending her a message to stay out. She may take the message and pass. Hard to say.

Steve Pearce--He lives to stop a moderate like Wilson from having the nomination. He stays put in his congressional seat and works it behind the scenes.

John Sanchez--The lieutenant governor needs to be watched. Republicans are hot for Hispanic candidates--look at Susana--he could emerge here.

Matt Chandler--Untested, but interesting. He could surface if others recede.

Santullo, 64, began his broadcasting career in the early 70's. A Democrat, he served as communications director for former ABQ Mayor Ken Schultz.


Friends of former Mayor Marty Chavez say he is more than casually interested in the Senate seat that will become vacant with the departure of Jeff Bingaman. Chavez, elected to three terms as ABQ Mayor, was ousted by Republican Richard Berry in '09. He sought the Senate nod in 2008, but got out early and Tom Udall prevailed.

Chavez has the pedigree for the position. He has a law degree from Georgetown, is a policy wonk and has been both an executive and a legislator.

He has been mentioned as a future US Senator since he got into politics back in the 80's, but he never could get past the mayor's office. No one ever has. At 59, this cycle probably represents his last hope for the comeback. Like others, he waits for the stars to align.

As for Heather, we are hearing reports of polling that shows her strong in the ABQ area, but not so strong statewide. John Sanchez is looking at the race. If he goes in and gets Pearce and the Tea Party behind him, he could derail Wilson as Pearce did in the 2008 GOP primary.


But will we stay at the top of the list after the movie industry had its spotlights blackened in Santa Fe?

MovieMaker magazine has ranked Albuquerque as the No. 2 city among the top 10 cities for independent filmmakers. Boston beat out the Duke City this year for the No. 1 spot, held by Albuquerque in 2010. The No. 3 and No. 4 spots went to New Orleans and Austin, Texas.

And then there is this:

A number of film projects slated to be shot in New Mexico are in limbo or canceled, one producer said.Producer Alton Walpole said two major feature films that were once looking to come to New Mexico are now on hold.Walpole said production companies are waiting to see what happens with film incentives before making a decision.

One can hope that Mayor Berry and his economic development department are tracking this. The Mayor decided not to weigh in on the cut in film incentives, saying Santa Fe could work it out. They cut the film rebate and it appears that will be the final word. How's that working out for you now, Mayor?


We didn't see any high heel marks on the windpipe of APS Superintendent Winston Brook after his very first meeting with Governor Martinez Wednesday. She has been chiding him over administrative waste in the system, while he maintains there is none. They both smiled and joked for the cameras and said they are ready to work together.

Some of the school honchos have been operating in a political vacuum, cushioned for years by the powerful (too powerful) education lobby in the state House and under the previous Governor. It has left the impression that somehow Brooks is the political equivalent of the Governor. He is not.

Maybe Martinez can change this culture of expectations among school administrators and school boards when it comes to running these districts. She's made a start with Brooks, but she needn't get too friendly. She's not done with those high heels.


Rather than look with disdain at the billions of dollars that come into the state from the federal government, GOP State Senate Leader Stuart Ingle is playing nice as his east side district reaps the benefits:

Building contractors working at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis would continue to be exempt from paying gross receipts taxes if a bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle becomes law.

The economy of the entire area and most everyone should get more bang for their buck and should benefit from this extension. The community should feel the benefits of extending this deduction because when the military has to pay less, the military can build more and that translates into more wages being paid by contractors that are able to flow in the local economy...

Stu, could you send that memo to the Tea Party folks who are freaked out by federal spending. We think you nailed it.

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