Monday, April 11, 2011

Susana's First Hundred Days: Heavy On Symbolism, Light On Substance, Plus: Skandera's Scare Gets Them Shouting, And: More On The Las Cruces Leaks 

Martinez (AP)
Governor Martinez has completed her first 100 days in office as well as her first legislative session, leaving no reason to think her popularity has either cratered or wildly surged. In the past week her handlers had her popping up in every corner of the state conducting symbolic bill signings--most of it not very earth shaking--but tailor made for TV news. While insiders see Martinez as a tough and sometimes severe former prosecutor, the picture given to the public through the media is that of a happy warrior. It's pretty good image management (The Guv also did not shy away from using her veto pen).

This transition from the most activist administration in state history--that of Big Bill--has been much more notable for the symbolic than the substantial. A friend with roots deep in the rural traditions of northern New Mexico described it in Spanish and it comes out like this in the translation:

Susana is like the hen who cackles much, stomps her feet and makes the most noise in the barnyard. She gets a lot of attention, but this is a hen that doesn't lay any eggs.

Whether correct or whimsical, another narrative about this administration that has currency among the political classes is that Martinez and her team are dead serious about getting her the VP slot on the 2012 GOP presidential ticket. That is the explanation given as to why the administration doesn't seem particularly concerned about seeking consensus, but instead is focused on keeping her conservative credentials pure and attractive to the national Republican nominating wing.

In this school of thinking her thin legislative record is of little importance. As the nation's first female Hispanic Governor, symbolism, not necessarily substance, will be key in trying to get her to national prominence.


Skandera (AP)
Martinez has thrown out more than mere symbolism when it comes to public education (at least that's the view from this corner). She advocated for three legislative proposals, only one of which made it to her desk. She also promised not to make any cuts to the public education classroom. But then came that major snafu, with Hanna Skandera, the new hot-button Secretary of Education. Now that the legislators have gone home, she discloses there has been a beauty of a mistake (or misunderstanding) in figuring out how much money is going to be needed for special ed students and teacher salaries. It means school budgets will have to be trimmed by 3.4 percent not the much smaller 1.5 percent that was approved at the just concluded legislative session.

Skandera tired to spin that the mishap really was no mishap at all:

Is there someone to blame? Absolutely not. This is data, data turned in on a regular basis same on the same time frame as last year. The same process to follow.

But school superintendents, already being pressed hard for cuts, did not take it kindly, even as the Governor asserted the new round of cuts will still not impact the classroom, a judgment educators call into question.

Martinez was on her way to seizing the moral high ground in going after excess administrative costs in the public schools--especially with the ABQ public schools and Superintendent Winston Brooks who she called on the carpet. But the new shortfall shocker sent the momentum back the other way. That doesn't mean Martinez hasn't hit a public nerve over PIO's gone wild at APS and other examples of excessive overhead that she has wagged her finger at. Her education department's foul-up, however, does mean she is going to have to spend more political capital to get her way.


Part of this Governor's campaign to prove her bona fides to a national Republican audience is her continued chastisement of the state's film industry and "Hollywood," that elite enclave so resented by social conservatives. The latest example came in Susana's budget signing message:

The key to protecting our core priorities was trimming the film industry subsidy by nearly $25 million. Without this reduction, we would have faced deep cuts to schools and health care services. Balancing the budget on the backs of our children while continuing to give Hollywood a free ride was unacceptable to me from the start. I’m pleased that we were able to reach a suitable compromise that continues to welcome the film industry to New Mexico.

Well, never mind that $25 million in a $5.4 billion budget isn't the fiscal savior claimed by the Fourth Floor, let's talk about that back-handed compliment. First, you accuse Hollywood of getting a "free ride" but then claim our state welcomes the film industry. Those freeloading Hollywood producers the Guv speaks of might not be too kind when it comes to selecting New Mexico as a shooting location if given the choice between us and a state that offers similar incentives. But perhaps this concern is secondary when you are courting the national nominating wing of the Republican Party.


Reaction now to the Friday blog discussing the leaks coming out of Las Cruces and that bribery investigation being headed by Special Prosecutor and Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler. He is said to be probing allegations that District Judge Mike Murphy bought himself his position on the bench by giving money to the Richardson administration, a charge he and his attorney strongly deny. His lawyer called the leak of information "illegal," a term we also used. But the case has not actually been presented to the grand jury yet, so does that mean the leaks aren't "illegal?" We explore that with some reader thoughts:

Joe, the grand jury hasn't met, yet, so there can't be any leaks from there, yet. And that is what is illegal: leaking proceedings that are before a grand jury without a court order. So it's not illegal, yet.

But one of our legal beagles does not necessarily share that view: He explains:

State Grand Juries are convened for six months and they hear whatever cases are scheduled or presented by the district attorney or special prosecutor. The completed investigation reports are turned over to the prosecutor who then schedules the time and witnesses before the grand jury. Target letters are sent to defendants and they are given an opportunity to testify. In this case, it may not be scheduled yet, but there is grand jury impaneled and the leaks are coming from someone with access to final reports or even witnesses who have been interviewed.

There are red here flags that there may be prosecutorial misconduct and the leaking of information. The leaking is not coming from grand jury but it could be illegal depending upon who it is coming from....

Of course, the leaking could be coming from a variety of sources, not just the special prosecutor.

Republican Chandler was the 2010 GOP attorney general nominee and has been mentioned as a bright GOP star of the future. How the case is handled and settled could impact his future prospects.


Republican State Representative Jeanette Wallace, 77, was claimed by death Friday. She was first elected in 1990 and represented mainly Los Alamos but also parts of Sandoval and Santa Fe counties. From the Governor:

Jeannette dedicated two decades of her life to serving New Mexico in the state legislature. She was a tireless advocate for the people of Los Alamos, Sandoval, and Santa Fe Counties - committed to public service even as her health was fading over the past few months....Representative Wallace's passing is a loss for all of us who have had the pleasure to work with her. She will be deeply missed.

Jeannette will be especially missed by Democratic House Speaker Ben Lujan who often counted on the independent Wallace for support.


We put up info recently from a junior Alligator in the ABQ South Valley knowing full well this Gator has gone astray over and over. And they did it again, asserting here on April 4 that State Senator Linda Lopez's district could be absorbed because of a drop in population in the latest census. But a Senior Alligator comes with the correction:

Actually, Linda Lopez’s district is 57% higher than the ideal population of a senate district.

The speculation came about as jockeying begins for the state senate seat of Eric Griego who is weighing giving it up and running for the ABQ US House seat. (Notice how we hedge there?)

We still have hope for that junior Alligator--kind of like a father whose son is serving time in prison.


Here is some good old fashioned political gossip from the ABQ South Valley, completely unfiltered, but presented for your entertainment pleasure:

We returned from the Atrisco Heir fundraiser. State Auditor Hector Balderas will announce his candidacy for the Democratic US Senate nomination in two weeks. State Senator Pete Campos will not enter the race against Balderas. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is dragging his feet, but being pushed by his father, Speaker Ben Lujan, to get in. Hector will visit with Ben Ray to keep him out. The plan may include one or more visits with Big Ben. Also, Democratic Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks will forego entering either the Senate or US House race and will concentrate on the 2014 race for attorney general.

So far, Dem US Congressman Martin Heinrich is the only major Dem candidate to announce for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Jeff Bingaman. Will Hector get in this thing and make it interesting? Friends say he is working at lining up financial commitments before taking the dive.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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