Thursday, March 10, 2011

Senate Pushes Back: Guv Loses License Repeal In Midnight Showdown; Long Debate Gets Ugly, Plus: Janice Looks At Heinrich Seat, And: Partying Alligator 

The Great Diversion--otherwise known as the debate over repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants--finally ground to a halt late Wednesday night with the Senate rejecting Republican John Ryan's bill for an outright license repeal. Instead, they adopted a compromise bill that keeps the licenses, but toughens penalties for fraud. That will probably go nowhere with the House which must agree to it, thus ending the emotionally-charged and sometimes ugly exchanges that have echoed around the Roundhouse. The Ryan bill lost 24-17 with two Dems joining the losing R's--Tim Eichenberg and John Arthur Smith. The compromise bill that the Governor called a sham passed on a 25-16 vote shortly before Midnight. Smith was the Dem voting against.

She won in the House last week, but the Senate vote was a big setback for Governor Martinez. However her political team will spin it as a win, claiming it will mean their chances of picking up legislative seats in 2012 have dramatically improved because the public is overwhelmingly in favor of an outright repeal.

But even if that is the case, there is a price to be paid. The five hour Senate debate last night descended into talk of the Ku Klux Klan, racism and Mexicans. By pushing so hard on this racially charged issue, Martinez, as Governor King, might say, "opened up a box of Pandoras." Fighting hard for what you believe is one thing. Putting at risk the state's historic "live and let live" attitude among all its peoples is another. That is not goodwill that the state's first female Hispanic Governor wants to squander.

The death threats against legislators shows how toxic the atmosphere has become. The Guv's strong arm tactics may or may not have backfired. What is clear now is she needs to apply equal passion to healing the wounds this debate has opened.

She came with this statement following the defeat:

It is unfortunate that the Senate Democratic leadership rejected a bi-partisan compromise to repeal the law giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, which had passed the House with a significant bi-partisan majority. The people of New Mexico sent a loud and clear message that they want this dangerous law repealed, but some in the legislature chose to shut out the voices of their constituents in favor of partisan political gamesmanship. I promised the people of New Mexico that I will fight to repeal this law and that fight will continue.

The long obsession with this temper-triggering, but ultimately secondary issue was an in your face reminder that neither political party is really ready to fully grapple with the economic predicament the state faces.

A stubbornly high unemployment rate, a commercial real estate collapse, a continuing bear market in residential real estate, business closures and anemic tax collections by local governments continue to stare this new Governor and the Democratic leadership in the face daring them to do something.

Don't hold your breath.


State Senator Kent Cravens, speaking near Midnight, summed up the prevailing sentiment:

"This has been a mess tonight."


Here's how the AP played it to the state and nation late Wednesday when the closely watched license debate drew to an end:

SANTA FE, N.M.—In a political setback for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, the Senate rejected a politically charged proposal Wednesday night to stop New Mexico from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

The Senate voted 24-17 against a proposal by Republican Sen. John Ryan of Albuquerque that would have ended the practice of granting licenses to foreign nationals without a Social Security number.

Rep. O'Neill
It may be remembered as one of the gutsiest votes of Legislature 2011, but will it cost ABQ Dem State Rep. Bill O'Neill his seat? The second term lawmaker from a swing district refused to bow to pressure from Governor Martinez and her attack team (robocalls into his district etc.) and voted against their favored proposal on the hot-button issue of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. The measure was blasted out of committee on a 36-34 vote. O'Neill is already prepping for the 2012 battle that the R's are sure to engage him in. We get a sneak preview in this this op-ed piece he authored:

I voted for a floor amendment that I felt was far superior to HB 78. It narrowly failed in a 36-34 vote. Offered as bipartisan compromise, it incorporated elements from several driver’s license bills...This compromise bill would have revoked falsely issued driver’s licenses. It would also have made it a third-degree felony for an MVD employee to issue a fraudulent license, and it would mandate a two-year expiration for any license issued to a foreign national. Since the vote, I have borne a great deal of criticism as a result of my vote.

And if you wonder just how gutsy O'Neill's vote was, look at this. O'Neill won re-election by a mere 163 votes against Republican Justin Horwitz, It was O'Neill with 5,535 votes to Horwitz's 5,372. That's 50.70% to 49.30%.

Maybe he wins next year. Maybe not. Either way, the fighting Irishman appears ready for whatever Martinez and her political arm throws his way.


While the R's will use wedge issues like the licenses to try to pick up the three seats their party needs to take the majority in the state House, the Dems will counter with the economy as we see in this missive from Dem Party Chair Javier Gonzales:

Martinez's rhetoric and actions seek to divide New Mexicans...She has spent absolutely no time during her first legislative legislative session focused on what the people truly care about: jobs and job creation. Let her adopt the no-compromises attitude of George W. Bush and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Getting her driver's license bill by attacking those who disagree with her won't change the fact that her lack of leadership on jobs so far has been appalling. In fact, the only substantive thing she's done so far on jobs is to kill them--leading a personal crusade to kill the film industry in New Mexico.

Which will prevail, the wedge issues or the economy? It seem much would depend on how the economy is doing here come late 2012.


We dropped the tidbit the other day that former ABQ GOP State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones was looking at a bid for the ABQ congressional seat held by Dem Martin Heinrich. Janice now announces she's formed an exploratory committee to formally test the waters. She wants to see if she can raise the necessary money before going all the way in.

The two biggest things that must be tested are whether or not we can raise the financial resources necessary and how much support can be generated.

Also, she is assuming that Heinrich will give up the seat to seek the Dem US Senate nomination. But if he doesn't, she could decide to stay out.

ABQ GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis has already formed an exploratory committee. An Arnold-Jones primary could get interesting. He is seen as the more conservative candidate, but Janice was prominently positioned behind Heather Wilson this week when she made her announcement for the Senate seat. That gave rise to speculation that perhaps Heather might quietly help Janice in the months ahead. Quietly being the key word as Arnold-Jones has often ruffled the feathers of some of the conservatives who Wilson needs to secure the Senate nod. Wilson held the ABQ House seat for 10 years.


Reader James Meiers writes:

The Dems should stick to their own yard right now. (Dem Guv nominee) Diane Denish's decision to attack Susana during the primaries was so stupid that whoever even suggested it should have been fired. Like this current action does with Heather, it made them look scared when they are holding somewhat of an advantage and emboldened their political foes. More importantly it motivated the Republican voters that if the Dems are scared they're already losing two years before election day.

From City Hall:

This week TJ Wilham requested to be reassigned to a different position for personal reasons. Public Safety Director Darren White honored that request and assigned him to serve as a special projects coordinator in the Office of Emergency Management.

Wilham is a former ABQ Journal reporter who was paid $75,000 a year in his PR job which was created when White took over in December 2009. No previous public safety head ever had their own PR flack.

The controversial White has run into a rugged PR patch of late, getting a vote of no confidence from the ABQ police officers union. His actions as Bernalillo County sheriff have also been making headlines. Maybe the pressure got to Wilham. No word on what his "personal reasons" were, but having seen these moves before, a meltdown would not be unusual.

Berry has been urged to tone down White and TV news insiders say it appears he has not been as active on the media front. With Wilham out, Berry could now decide not to hire a replacement which would keep White further away from the media stream coming out of Government Center.

As for Wilham, this is a soft landing. Just what does a special projects coordinator do? And with a City Hall budget crunch, do we really need one?


From the capitol and an Alligator with their sense of humor fully intact:

Strange things happen in Santa Fe during the legislative session. The Santa Fe Democratic Party had their annual Mardi Gras fundraiser event and one of the prominent guests attending was the southeast NM GOP strategist, the Honorable Senator Rod Adair. He was visiting with Javier Gonzales, the current state Democratic Party Chair. Has Lightning Rod finally seen the light, turning left and going blue? Is he developing a strategy to help Javiar get re-elected as Chairman? Did he think it was a GOP fundraiser? Does he just enjoy Jambalaya and rice and beans? Are Democrats just more friendly and fun? Maybe it's all of the above. I'm glad to see he finally saw the light!

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