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Monday, March 07, 2011

Santa Fe's Directionless Dems; No Plan Is The Plan, Plus: Heather In Senate Race Today As Sanchez Starts Making Noise, And: City Hall Alligator Strike 

Where's the Democratic plan? Governor Martinez jolts them with a win in the state House on repealing driver's licenses for illegal immigrants (Senate approval is less certain) but the Dems have yet to do much to put Martinez on the defensive. The truth is with a very narrow majority in the House and the state Senate under the leadership of a conservative coalition, Martinez is looking at a lot of friendly faces.

Dems outside the Roundhouse want their legislative leadership to send Martinez a jobs or stimulus bill that she would veto so they can have her on the record on this crucial issue--just as she has House Dems on the record voting not to bring to the floor the hyper-controversial license issue.

But the Senate Dem caucus is worlds apart on the big economic issues. Senators Jennings and John Arthur Smith are nearly Republicans in that regard and have no common ground with liberal Senators like Griego and Feldman.

Freshman Senator Tim Keller did some weekend op-ed freelancing on the tax code. Interesting, but hardly the stuff that will galvanize public opinion. There is also the proposal from Senate leader Michael Sanchez to bond permanent fund money to avoid budget cuts. But what does the Democratic caucus as a whole stand for? You need Sherlock Holmes to figure that out.

So here we are with still high unemployment and a still sluggish economy--issues the public traditionally looks to the Dems to lead on--and they have yet to articulate a common message and put the Republican Governor on the spot.

The Democrats pride themselves on being a "big tent" party, but there is such a thing as too big of a tent.

LICENSE VOTE


Here are the eight Democrats who voted with the Republicans Friday to repeal the law allowing driver's licenses to be awarded to illegal immigrants:

Representatives Ray Begaye, Joseph Cervantes, Donna Irwin, Sandra Jeff, Rhonda King, Patricia Lundstrom, Al Park, and Debbie Rodella.

The vote by ABQ's Park is notable. He has been mentioned as a possible US House candidate if Martin Heinrich gives up the ABQ seat to run for Senate. He is also a possible candidate for an ABQ Public Regulation Commission seat in 2012.
Cervantes of Las Cruces has toyed with running for the US House seat in the conservative south. Note also the "yes" votes on the repeal from Indian Country, including Reps Jeff, Lundstrom and Begaye.

One Roundhouse wall-leaner explained the Indian Country votes to repeal the licenses this way:

The Navajos know a thing or two about being too hospitable toward strangers in their midst!

Northern Rep. Debbie Rodella, chairman of the business and industry committee, is a San Juan Pueblo member. She is noted for perhaps the most historic vote in the 2oth century New Mexican Legislature. That vote, in 1997, broke a tie in the House and paved the way for legalized gambling on state tribal lands. In the final quarter of 2011, Indian casinos posted a "net win" of over $172 million.

IN THE SENATE

Las Cruces newsman Walt Rubel says assumptions that the Senate would reject the move to repeal the licenses are shaky in the aftermath of House approval:

Momentum clearly seems to be on the side of those opposed to granting licenses, and I don't see anything happening to change that between now and 2012, when all 42 Senate seats are up for re-election. Senators may want to delay the inevitable, but don't be surprised if a few pragmatists cross over the aisle to pass it this year.

HEATHER WATCH

The Dems may already be firing blanks at former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson who is expected to announce her candidacy for the 2012 GOP US Senate nomination at 2:30 p.m. today in ABQ at the offices of Desert Paper and Envelope. (We'll post an update for you.)

National and local Dems reacted to Wilson's forthcoming candidacy with attacks on her ethics--in particular the US attorney scandal in which she and former Senator Domenici were accused of tyring to get US Attorney David Iglesias to speed up indictments that they could use to their political advantage.

The scandal cost Domenici dearly as he was penalized by the Senate Ethics Committee, but Wilson got off scot-free.

But ethics is not going to get the spectators up from their sofas. Jobs, wages, privatizing Social Security--those are the issues that most matter--and one suspects the Dems will see that rather quickly as the campaign moves forward.

For now, Wilson is most vulnerable to a GOP primary challenge on her right. And the rattling has already begun. The
head of redstate.com--a national news site that works to keep Republican blood pure--is already calling Wilson's candidacy a mutt. In a tweet, the redstate editor fired this shot:

Keeping Heather Wilson out of the Senate will be the next great noble cause for conservatives.

And who will be the leader of that "noble cause?"

THE SANCHEZ FACTOR

A lot of Republicans think it could be Lt. Governor John Sanchez. He sounded pretty serious when he gave his first comments to TV news on a possible Senate candidacy and a clash with Wilson:

Folks here in the Roundhouse and across the state of New Mexico are saying consider this run for the U.S. Senate...

Sanchez said for now his main focus is on the legislative session and the state’s budget but is considering running for the Senate seat. He said he is leaving all options open for now.

Gators, the odds on John running just zoomed past 50 percent.

Heather's arch-rival, Rep. Steve Pearce, expressed dismay that the party is not uniting. He sent a letter to Republicans recently urging that they get behind one candidate. Obviously, he doesn't believe that one candidate is Heather. Expect the Pearce forces to line up behind Sanchez.

Wilson's announcement today will be closely watched to see if she moves to the right as her "moderate" credentials come under fire from an even more conservative GOP than when she ran and lost the 2008 US Senate primary to conservative Pearce.

Life would be much easier for her if Sanchez can be kept out of the race. Leading R's note that aside from him there is no obvious muscular primary challenger.

And here's the email making the rounds on Wilson's event:

Just to let you know, Heather Wilson is making an announcement on Monday, March 7th @ 2:00 pm, located @ 2700 Girard NE, north of Menaul and west of American Furniture. Bring signs if you want and also some friends as well.

Bring signs? Is the campaign already on a budget and going to bring the old ones up from the basements? Well, that might score points with those fiscal conservatives who are so sour on Heather.

ALLIGATOR STRIKE


Is it kosher that publicly elected ABQ Public School Board member David Robbins is working for Mayor Berry as a constituent services assistant? Alligators struck with the news that Robbins has been hired, even though the City Charter appears to prohibit Robbins from serving in both positions:

No employee shall participate in the following types of political activity:
(B) Being a candidate for or holding any elective city office.

Robbins is no stranger to controversy. Last September he drew fire
when he argued that condoms can increase the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections.

A CONFLICT?

In a related manner, a reader writes:

Does the NM legislature have any conflict of interest rules that require legislators to abstain from voting on bills in which they have a financial interest? I raise that question because school funding is a big issue these days, and many legislators seem to be school employees. I would hope they would abstain from voting on school budgets that affect their employment and salaries. Has this ever been an issue?

We get that one a lot. The Legislature doesn't have nay rules that prohibit membership if you work for a state funded school. The legislators are part time and do not received salaries, but a daily expense account.

As noted above, the city of ABQ prohibits its employees from serving in the Legislature or other elected positions.


HIGHER ED BURDEN

And another reader writes--angrily--of the burden higher education is shouldering to balance the budget:

It would be refreshing if you pointed out that the budget will be balanced on the backs of higher education employees who continue to suffer pay cuts through increased pension deductions.

By next year we will be contributing 10% of our incomes to the bloody ERB. By comparison, teachers in Wisconsin are being forced to contribute 5.8%. Note also that in Ohio educators will be forced to pay for 13% of their medical plans. We already pay 1/3! And most importantly, note that UNM salaries, for example, are far less than those in places like Ohio and Wisconsin.
Dr. No (state Senator John Arthur Smith) and his fellows know that they can get away with this violation of the state's commitments because every time they do this they say it's "temporary."

You could also cite the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll from yesterday showing massive support for increased taxes on the wealthy and on oil companies. Yes, I know pseudo-Dems like Dr. No and Richardson still believe in trickle down economics. The question is do you?

A couple of points. The higher ed establishment--at least at UNM--needs to address the ongoing concern that they are top heavy with administrators. In particular, the couple of dozen vice-presidents being paid in the vicinity of $200,000. Are they being trimmed? The public is waiting for some reform.


As for the question of where we stand on taxes, we've advocated since the beginning of the recession/depression for a higher tax rate on the wealthy. That NBC/Wall St. Journal poll shows 81 percent support for placing a federal surtax on those making $1 million a year. We count ourselves among that 81 percent.

The immense money flowing into political campaigns has washed away distinctions on tax policy for the well-off. Former Governor Richardson slashed the top rate in New Mexico and we now essentially have a flat income tax. Not good. And nationally, Obama was forced to back away from terminating the Bush tax cuts for those making over $200,000 a year.

The historic disparity between the rich and poor has been repeatedly exposed during this epic downturn, but unlike past downturns there seems little backbone among the political classes to reverse it.

THE BOTTOM LINES

The lure of La Politica was too much for columnist and New Mexico humorist Ned Cantwell to resist. He's back at it as seen in this latest dispatch.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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