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Monday, September 26, 2011

A Seinfeld Special Session: It Was About Nothing; Major Bills Die; Others To Be Vetoed, Plus: Ex-Guv Cargo Suffers Stroke & City Election Action 

The do-nothing 2011 special session of the NM Legislature is mercifully over. Everyone loses--the Guv, the Legislature and Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico. Governor Martinez overreached and as expected failed to win approval of any of her major legislative proposals. She and the Legislature failed together as they could not strike a deal on redistricting the House, Senate or three congressional seats. That means taxpayers will be clocked for millions in legal and consulting fees as the matter heads to the courts. Also, the Legislature, in the face of the worst employment crisis in modern history, shrunk the capital outlay bill from $213 million to only $86 million, forfeiting an opportunity to help jump-start this moribund economy that has thrown so many working class citizens to the wolves.

The lesson? A very old one. Special legislative sessions only work when their outcomes are predetermined by pre-session deal making. No deal? Then you do nothing.

DOOMED FROM START

The 19 day, $50,000 per day special session was doomed from the start, but there was simply no way to stop the train wreck. We are mandated to redistrict the political boundaries every ten years. But with an uncompromising GOP Governor and an equally partisan Dem Legislature you knew there would be gridlock. Maybe we need a system like they have in some other states that takes redistricting out of the hands of the Guv and Legislature and places the responsibility with a bipartisan commission. But when you do something only once every ten years the cries for reform are faint.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS


Construction workers, retail clerks and waiters and waitresses. Those are the kind of working class folks who are being slammed by this still steep recession, but a band of conservative Dems led by Senator John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith steered the ship far to the right and refused to approve the $213 million in capital outlay money, instead shrinking it to $86 million. In doing so they ignored Governor Martinez, major labor unions and the business community. They also reinforced the argument that the state Democratic party continues to lose ground because it is ignoring its base voters.

For example, Luna, Hidalgo and Sierra counties, which Senator Smith represents, has a traditionally high unemployment rate. Worse, like the rest of the state, the work force there is shrinking as people give up or get out. They could use that capital outlay money today to start putting people to work in New Mexico's boot heel.

It was thought a coalition of Senate R's and Democrats who were not part of the Smith team could pass the $213 million, but the R's split among themselves, leaving their own party's Governor high and dry.

Smith is arguing that sinking oil prices could mean less tax revenue and thus less bonding capacity for the capital projects. He says we can wait and see what happens and take up the issue again in the regular January legislative session. Four months may not seem like much in Santa Fe, but for the thousands of jobless and nearly jobless New Mexicans it is long indeed. And remember a partisan brawl killed the $213 capital outlay bill back in January.

The Governor has been faulted for her lack of a jobs agenda, but it was the Democrats that backed off when it came time to be aggressive on the state's #1 issue. We score this a decisive win for the Fourth Floor.

DRIVER'S LICENSES

Those who have had to endure the endless debate over repealing driver's licenses for illegal aliens are bone tired of the dreary subject. Is the public catching up? Maybe soon. The Guv's political team--obsessed with making political points--again put this loser on the special session agenda--and lost--again.

What is most disturbing about this is their heels-in-the-cement cement refusal to compromise. She could have gotten a partial win, but refused. That signaled that this is a political operation through and through. The Guv could get this law partially repealed and then go in for the kill in future years. That she is not willing to do so shows she wants to use it for a political payoff in the 2012 legislative elections. But what about the payoff for being a successful Governor who gets things done? That does not appear to be on the agenda when it comes to this most polarizing of issues. Now she will come back in January for a third bite and another one after that.

As we've noted before, there seems to be a certain hubris in play here that posits that because public opinion polls show the public overwhelmingly approves repealing the licenses, that there is no way Susana can lose. You may not lose the argument, but you can wear the public out, especially when they have more down-to-earth concerns like their jobs and retirement funds.

SOCIAL PROMOTION
Skandera & Guv
If the Guv and Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera will come with some money to fund it, the time for the social promotion bill for third graders has come. It didn't belong on the special session agenda and so it dies. This is the "bold change" that was so heavily advertised in last year's campaign, but we have yet to see in legislative form. Martinez and Skandera can have the win if they don't try to do it on the cheap.

Here's the way it is ladies: Do you want to make a headline or do you want to make a law? Come with a couple of million to start funding the mandate and watch the ball start to roll. Or better yet, also come with stronger remediation efforts so the third graders don't have to be held back in the first place.

REDISTRICTING

Not much to be said on this because what happened was expected--complete gridlock between the Guv and the Dem controlled Legislature. They could not even get a plan to redistrict the three congressional seats up to her to veto. Has that ever happened in the history of the state? The courts will now be called on to draw the state House, Senate and congressional boundaries. For congress, that means little change. And the court will also look to make as little change as possible to the legislative districts. They don't like being put in the middle of the mess.

There will be losers under the eventual court-approve boundaries of the state House and Senate. Will we see some legislative retirements announced come January or even sooner? That is the usual order of the day following redistricting.

NO PASEO MONEY

Critics of Mayor Berry's $50 million bond issue on the Oct. 4 city election ballot got new ammo when the special legislative session failed to approve $30 million in capital outlay money for rebuilding the I-25 and Paseo del Norte intersection.The Mayor is asking voters to approve $25 million in bonds next Tuesday, arguing that if they do the Legislature and Feds will be more prone to put up their funds for the project. It has a price tag of well over $300 million. Berry's foes argue that if the state isn't going to kick in why should voters approve $25 million that will just sit in the bank?

BERRY BONDS

Besides the $25 million for Paseo, Berry is asking voters to okay another $25 million for a 35 acre Sportsplex that would probably be situated at Mesa del South in the far southern reaches of the metro, We wondered here if there would be much public outreach by the Berry forces to save this bond issue in the face of mounting criticism. Well, our answer has landed in the mailboxes.

A piece (posted here) extolling the Paseo bond issue landed recently, but was immediately attacked for being deceitful. The mailer mentions Paseo but not a word about the controversial sportsplex. The problem? The two are tied together. You can't vote only for Paseo and not for the Sportsplex. A "yes" vote is a vote for both.

In addition to Mayor Berry's $50 million in special bonds, there is the regular bond issue for the cycle which totals $164 million. There is no shortage of nervousness over those bonds. Supporters worry that criticism of Berry's extra $50 million could spill over to the regular bonds, perhaps endangering their passage.

THE BIG PICTURE

The news that former GOP Governor Dave Cargo, 82, has suffered a stroke and is undergoing rehabilitation came during the waning days of the special legislative session. It was especially poignant as he was known as a middle ground Governor ('66-'70), striking deals with both sides of the aisle in order to get the job done. Well, there may be plenty of real estate available in Santa Fe during this historic bear market, but there is a middle ground shortage.

Our leaders in Santa Fe, like Washington, are so close yet so far. A little move to the middle by the Senator Smith acolytes and the Guv would be signing a nice big capital outlay bill. That would have sent a message New Mexico is serious about getting things moving again and that it values its working classes and wants to assist the business people who employ them A little move to the middle by Susana on the driver's licenses for illegals and we'd have her signing a law that starts the needed crackdown. And so goes the recipe for success in a Santa Fe plagued by polarization.

Cargo's family is not releasing details of his condition, reports KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson, but if he was paying attention to the special session in final hours, we bet he was saying, "Let's make a deal"!

WHERE'S THE BEEF?
Matt Chandler
From the beginning our Legal Beagles have said the bribery case brought against Las Cruces District Court Judge Michael Murphy looked like a dead-end. And they are slowly being proven correct. At least one of the felony charges against Murphy has now been dropped.
So where's the beef?

Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler, who the Guv named as a special prosecutor in the case when she was Dona Ana County district attorney, insists he has something here and will fight on. The ludicrous aspect of the charges is that former Governor Big Bill personally accepted envelopes filled with cash in exchange for appointing judges. If Chandler proves that bizarro world allegation, they ought to skip the election and appoint him attorney general. Otherwise, Matt, get ready for more rough sledding. As the judge dismissing the charges indicates, your case is as shaky as cafeteria jello.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011

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