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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Session '11: The Merciful End Is In Sight, Plus: Spin Doctoring At City Hall, Getting New Mexico Moving & The New UNM Regent Is An Old Timer 

They're ready to go home in Santa Fe--really ready. The prevailing mood was summed up by a weary newsman as the 60 day session began to skid to a close:

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave -- The Eagles sang it; I'm feeling it--
The 2011 NM legislative session

And right on schedule, the tempers are flaring. Look at this exchange between ABQ Dem State Rep. Mimi Stewart and Carter Bundy, the legislative director for the AFSCME labor union:

“Stop lying about me,” Stewart said to Bundy, who accused Stewart of making untruths on the House floor during debate of House Bill 644. ”Nice ethics,” Bundy said to Stewart as the two walked away.

And another veteran ink-stained wretch is ready to call this one history:

Someone just played this Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs classic on the House floor, in honor of Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, passing a memorial. Best thing I've heard in the Legislature all day.


The session has seemed endless because of the tedium. Neither the Governor or the Legislature had a sixty day agenda. They could have passed a budget and gone home after a month.

But, as they say, the show must go on, at least until Saturday at noon. And if someone says "Special Session" they ought to have their illegal driver's license confiscated.

SPIN DOCTOR UPDATE

There will be no replacing TJ Wilham, the $75,000 PR man for ABQ Public Safety Director Darren White, but the city's new deputy director of communications, Erin Kinnard Thompson, worked for White as his PR flack when he was Bernalillo County Sheriff and was most recently his assistant at City Hall.

Wilham was ousted after insiders reported he leaked info to the newspaper regarding text messages sent by fellow PIO Chris Ramirez to an ABQ police officer who had just been involved in a fatal shooting.

White was the first public safety director to have his own PIO.

City Hall's Ramirez describes the city's current communications policy this way:

We will no longer utilize a public safety communication director. Erin Thompson and I, together, will handle all communication responsibilities including those of the ABQ Police Department and ABQ Fire Department.

It appears that Mayor Berry would be saving $75,000 if he does not use the Wilham salary for another position.

But then it appears ABQ City Councilors are going to be getting some kind of pay raise from that independent salary commission that is meeting today. Looks like that $75k is going to go quick.

As for Darren White and the joke that the most dangerous place in New Mexico is between him and a TV camera, a local television news producer informs that White's TV cameos have diminished since he was slapped with a vote of no confidence by the APD officers union.

ABQ ELECTION 2011
O'Malley
Maybe ABQ Dem City Councilor Debbie O'Malley has been out of the loop lately. Why else would she announce her re-election plans on the eve of that independent salary commission likely approving controversial pay raises for future councilors? (The nine councilors make a bit more than $10,000 a year and each has a full-time staffer who make in the $55,0000 annual range).

Nevertheless, the two term councilor is looking pretty good to snare a third term come the October city election. The details:

...Debbie O'Malley announced she will be running for re-election in Council District 2. Councilor O'Malley will be seeking public financing for her re-election bid as allowed by the City's Open and Ethical Elections Code. She will officially launch her campaign with supporters, family and friends on March 31...

O'Malley, who represents the North Valley, made a brief run for mayor in 2009, but pulled out when raising money to qualify for public financing became onerous.


Besides Debbie, Democrat Garduno and Republicans Winter and Jones are up for re-election this year. Jones has said she will seek another term. No word yet from Winter or Cook.

GETTING ABQ MOVING

And if Mayor Berry isn't too busy juggling personnel, reader Jim McClure has a suggestion for him (and Governor Martinez) on how we might start chipping away at this 9.0 percent jobless rate haunting our city:

The Republican mantra of pumping money into the private sector by reducing taxes works only when you actually have a private sector, which is a little tenuous in New Mexico. Politicians are good at creating government jobs, but efforts to stimulate private sector jobs usually are limited to (a) distributing money to businesses and (b) creating government departments of economic development.

My home town of Oak Park, IL, contracted out its local business development effort to a
nonprofit corporation backed by local banks and other businesses: A low-interest business loan program used federal community development block grants as a reserve fund deposited in local banks. The banks, in turn, leveraged the government money 3:1 for below-market loans and shared the risk in case of defaults. (Since loans were written by experienced bankers rather than government bureaucrats, defaults have been rare.) The development corporation's two-person staff recruited businesses, matched them with available properties, advised them on their business plans, fast-tracked permits and licenses and helped them qualify for government loans and grants.

A government partnership with banks could result in more lending to small business. Mayor Berry has talked about expediting licenses and permits. Temporarily suspending gross receipts taxes for business start-ups may help.

Interesting stuff, Jim, and we hope City Hall gives it a listen.

MOVING THE BALL
Mayor Coss
Unless there is a sudden (and miraculous recovery) in the construction and real estate biz, policy makers like the mayor are faced with a real jobs dilemma.

But that doesn't mean they can't work at moving the ball forward. In Santa Fe, where business conditions in the depressed tourism sector are desperate or close to it, the search for answers is underway:

Is the key to fixing our local economy buried in the Far East? A panel of prominent Santa Feans -- including restaurateur and art dealer Gerald Peters, state international trade representative Edward Herrera and Thornburg Investment Management portfolio manager Lei Wang -- spent Tuesday morning at the Santa Fe Convention Center discussing Chinese tourism with Mayor David Coss and dozens of people from the public...

"They're creating a billionaire a month in China," Peters said. "It's staggering."

And those billionaires and millionaires need to see the world, so why not here? Mystical New Mexico would seem an easy sell. And then there's the casinos here so many Chinese enjoy. And did we mention that soon they could come and take rides into suborbital space at the Spaceport for $200,000 a pop. And maybe even some of them would want to do business here after doing all this? Let's keep talking...

While the discussion at the Santa Fe Convention Center was decidedly cosmopolitan, our politics remained ensconced deeply in the provincial. Radio listeners were getting a personal dose of it as the wedge issue warfare continued over issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Guv Martinez was blasted in this radio spot from the "Time To Govern Committee" for refusing to sign on to a "compromise" bill on the hot-button issue. The 60 second spot says:

It's a well thought out approach that will keep us all safer, yet Susana has promised to veto the bill....Call Governor Martinez let her know it's okay to stop campaigning and start governing...

Of course, there's already a rebuttal spot up from the Martinez camp which we'll post if it happens to come our way.

And even more radio from the state Democratic Party as they work to erode Martinez. Their spot is called "Where are the Jobs?"

Martinez has lost her battle over the licenses. After high profile votes in the Senate and House the two sides could not make a deal.

LEGISLATIVE EPITAPH

If you just dropped in here from Venus you might think unemployment was below five percent and the state was carrying a $500 million surplus. The epitaph of this legislative session will be the new governor's attempt to divert the public's attention from dire economic circumstances and into wedge issue warfare. If it advances her politically, the Governor will probably celebrate her decision. If it falls flat she may rue the day that she threw her peak political power behind a series of second-rate debates and avoided the state's steepest political, economic and social challenges.

THE NEW REGENT

Hopefully, retired Lt. General Bradley Hosmer is a young 73 like fellow 70 something Regent Jamie Koch.
He's been appointed by Governor Martinez to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents where major challenges await. He professes to knowing little about the university, but some faculty members say his service as a superintendent of the US Air Force Academy should help. He has also been a member of the East Mountain High School Governing Council since 2009.

But university critics, hopeful that Martinez will begin the process of depoliticizing the school after Big Bill made it his political playground, were looking for a more aggressive candidate and one who knew where the bodies were buried.

The fingerprints of former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, the chair of Martinez's transition committee, may be on the hands of the appointment. She is an Air Force Academy graduate and her husband, attorney Jay Hone, was an instructor there when he first met Wilson.

Martinez has held herself out as a reformer, but Hosmer and newly reappointed GOP Regent Jack Fortner (who will now become board president) have some work to do to convince sceptics they fit that mold.

FOR THE RECORD

We rarely refer to the state's congressional districts by their numbers because it is confusing, but we made an exception in blogging on the census Wednesday and readers quickly pointed out the numbers were jumbled. For the record, Congressional District 1 is the ABQ area district, CD 2 is the southern district and CD 3 is the north...We also received email about having a Wednesday headline, "New Regent Is Old Timer," but having no story. We dropped that story about 1 a.m. to make room for the Senate budget story, but forgot to drop the headline. The report is up today....

On the state budget, we blogged that the $5.4 billion bill passed by the Senate and which would take effect July 1 trimmed "under $200 million." The AP reports the actual number is $152 million and the ABQ Journal puts it at $155 million. Late Wednesday a final budget went to the Governor.

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