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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

They're Back; Special Session Today; We Go Long And Deep On The Major Angles With Our Roundhouse Watchers 

They're back at the Roundhouse today, gathered for that rare event--a special session of the state legislature to redraw the political lines of New Mexico. While redistricting can be a MEGO event for the public at large (my eyes glaze over), there are a myriad of fascinating subplots that will play out between Governor Martinez and the 112 lawmakers of the state House and Senate. Today on legislative kick-off day we game them all with the insiders, wall-leaners, Alligators, hangers-on and other creatures that populate the inside ring of La Politica:

HOW LONG?


Can they get it done in two weeks--more or less the time frame Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez has been citing? The Wall-Leaner take:

Those members, who are not retired, will be exerting pressure to get things started quickly and get done in no more than two weeks. The Senate is on board with that time frame. The House has a lot of members who are either retired or employed in government. They won’t be in the same hurry.


THE CONGRESS LINE


How about the new boundaries for the state's three US House seats for the next ten years? The insider look:

On Congress, Democrats in the southern district will be working so they are not thrown under the bus in order to make the ABQ and northern seats more solid Dem seats. The Albuquerque Dems may be willing to sacrifice the south. If so, you might see odd bipartisan coalitions form on the Congressional districts. The south remains the most heavily Hispanic part of the state and the east side is not growing. Within the next decade the east might no longer dominate the southern district. But in the end, there could be few major changes to the congressional districts.

STATE HOUSE

Those who draw the new lines for the legislative districts are already legislators. That means the "incumbency protection plan" will certainly be trotted out. Alligator analysis:

On the House legislative seats, expect a Democrat plan to be introduced quickly. The plan will likely be an incumbency protection plan for almost all Democrat and Republican legislators. There will be very little pairing of members, but there are some noteworthy exceptions.

On the Republican side, there is anticipation that Roswell Republican Rep. Dennis Kintigh will be paired with Roswell Rep. Nora Espinoza, who has become the Tea Party mouthpiece in the Republican caucus. Nobody is likely to throw Espinoza a lifeline and Kintigh has the support of oil money and the party mainstream. Republicans in the House privately won’t mind this match up and could quietly sacrifice Espinoza without regrets.

Incumbent Albuquerque House Democrats are going to be safe now that Rep. Al Park--who is leaving to run for the Public Regulation Commission--can contribute his district to help shore up weakened Dems Rep. Mimi Stewart and Rep. Bill O’Neil.

FOURTH FLOOR WATCHES

Is the Governor's veto pen already dripping ink in anticipation of a veto of whatever redistricting plan the Legislature sends her? That would mean an expensive trip to the courts. What could get the Governor to sign? Here's the Senior Alligator scenarios:

An incumbency focused plan may reflect an attempt to gather bipartisan support even if there is a veto. Susana will veto any plan that is not blessed by her political operatives and national insiders, and the Democrats are not going to give her that plan. Legislators may assume the courts will most likely adopt a plan with bipartisan support, and that keeps most incumbents in place.


A second alternative is a plan designed for a mutual trade, which will equally divide four seats which swung Republican in the last election in Valencia and Dona Ana counties. The parties may compromise rather than risk these seats flipping back Democrat. Such a compromise would mean Valencia creates a safe Democrat and a safe Republican district, and the same for Dona Ana.


THE LONG VIEW


Republicans are tantalizingly close to controlling the state House for the first time in decades. There are 36 Dems, 33 Republicans and one independent. How will the redistricting plan impact the R's prospects for an historic takeover in the next ten years? The Roundhouse hangers-on come with the strategy:

The Republicans are counting on the element of time to capture their majority and after decades have learned to be patient. Rep Donna Irwin’s Deming seat is 50-50 and would likely go Republican whenever she retires. Rep. Andy Nunez in Dona Ana wins his seat, but without Nunez this seat could easily go Republican in the next decade. Dem Rep. Rhonda King Bernalillo, Sandoval & Torrance counties) has a great family name, but a tough district and needing help this session.

There is no chance the Democrats can pass a plan the Governor will sign that will avoid the risk that the House will go Republican within ten years. Republicans have elected young new members while Democrats remain wedded to very senior leaders and committee chairs.


THOSE DRIVER'S LICENSES

In what has nearly become the defining issue of the Martinez administration, our insiders see the Governor cooling it a bit. In a pre-session interview she basically threw in the towel on getting a repeal of the law allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. She said there was no "consensus" on the issue in the Senate--meaning it will very likely die there. Alligator analysis says she may not put as much emphasis on it as she has been. That way she would avoid it becoming the acrimonious centerpiece of the session. The Roundhouse take:

Susana has been downplaying the driver's license issue as the session nears, and is probably saving this issue for January and the regular legislative session, and closer to the 2012 elections. She may want this issue on the national radar during the Republican presidential primaries, and to go after vulnerable legislators in 2012.

Good take, there. We sense that the incessant pounding on the driver's license issue to the exclusion of others is going to wear on the Guv. She can safely play it as a wedge issue, but if it becomes a litmus test as to whether this is an effective and powerful governorship, she loses because she can't get her bill through and is unwilling to compromise.

POINTS ON THE BOARD

One of the larger concerns for backers of Governor Martinez is putting some legislative points on the board. She has scored symbolic legislative victories, but not much of substance. Here's our insider take:

The Gov’s office has got to be sensitive to criticism that Susana didn’t pass much of any substance in her first legislative session. Sure, she fired two of the chefs at the Governor's Mansion and sold the state jet, but understandably Susana wants to avoid irrelevance this session by passing something instead of just sitting on the sidelines with a veto pen and courtroom at the ready.

Almost all of the bills she is promoting in this special session are “retreads.” A couple passed in the last session, but which Susana vetoed and probably now realizes these are errors she needs to correct. The other bills she now proposes went nowhere in the regular session, and without an advance deal are likely going nowhere again.

WORLDS COLLIDE

The most obvious sign that the worlds of the Governor and the state Senate are again about to collide came when Dem State Senator Mary Jane Garcia embarrassed Martinez when she publicly back tracked and pulled her support for an education bill. The Senior Gator types are all over it:


Senator Mary Jane Garcia’s flip flop at Susana’s press conference on the social promotion bill made clear that Susana hasn’t laid the groundwork for the session and probably now has even less support as her honeymoon appears clearly over. That flip flop was a message from Senate leadership that the Senate is not about to bail Susana out and will let her keep sinking. The only thing new from Susana this session seems to be the bill authorizing local governments to ban fireworks, which is two months too late.
...

And there you have it. Over a hundred lawmakers--almost all of them figuring redistricting angles that would make political life easier as they face voters in the next decade and a Governor whose lease on the honeymoon suite is about to expire and needs to keep the home fires burning with some legislative success.

PINTO RE-ELECT?

Back in May, Alligators in the Gallup area reported that 87 year old Dem State Senator John Pinto would not seek re-election in 2012, but ever since then that prediction has produced confusion, mystery and insider denial as well as confirmation. In other words, all the stuff that goes with the territory when you dive into Navajo politics. In his first statement on the matter, Pinto now says he will seek re-election.

Nearly all 112 state legislators have a personal stake in how New Mexico's political boundaries are redrawn. Even the oldest of them, Sen. John Pinto of Tohatchi, said he plans to seek re-election next year at age 87.

For now, we'll take it from the horse's mouth--that a re-election bid is in store. Could that change? As quickly as the wind that roars down Route 66....

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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