Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Mexico's New Era Reflected In A Lackluster Santa Fe, Plus: ABQ Becomes Lawsuit City, And: Nancy Lopez And How She Made State History 

The dynamic that has prevailed in Santa Fe since the Republican Governor took charge with a Dem-controlled Legislature remains fully intact one week into the 2012 legislative session. And that dynamic is gridlock. In other words, not a whole lot of meaningful legislation is going to get to the desk of the Guv. What will get done is the primary task of a short, 30 day session--the crafting of a budget. Somehow that gets lost anymore as even the short sessions get flooded with as nearly as many topics as the longer 60 day sessions (see below) that are held in odd-numbered years.

Ironically, the gridlock serves Martinez's political interests. GOP Governors in other states (Ohio's Kasich and Wisconsin's Walker come to mind) are in deep trouble because they have been successful in pushing through conservative agendas--particularly with regards to unions. Martinez has a disdain for unions, but she has not gone over the top in trying to curb their influence. Other proposals that could make the drumbeat of opposition louder from various interest groups--repeal of the law permitting undocumented immigrants to get a driver's license and Voter ID--have gone nowhere and are going nowhere. There's cause to grumble over what the Guv is offering but no reason to take up arms against her because she is not implementing what she passionately and repeatedly referred to as "bold change" during her 2010 campaign.

Martinez continues to govern from the middle when it comes to the budget. For the second year, her differences with the legislature's proposal are minuscule. There are no sweeping arguments in the capitol over the fundamental direction of government spending. Education and Medicaid will continue to receive the lion's share of state funds, although higher education funding is in the Guv's crosshairs and she has made a mark by not filling a number of state government vacancies.

Both the Guv and legislative Democrats have gravitated toward the jobs issue as the November election approaches, but she would veto most of the Dem plans if they reach her desk and the Dems will send most of hers to the legislative graveyard. Net change? Pretty much zero.

New Mexico and its state government remain in a holding pattern as a result of its soft economy and divided government. New state revenue projections (guesses?) this week say that the extra $250 million predicted for the next budget year will still be available despite crashing natural gas prices. Still, we are in a new era where political leaders take much smaller bites out of the pie. Gone are the days of building a Spaceport, launching a Rail Runner, sending rebate checks to citizens, the booming state construction industry and fat state government payrolls. Now the big ideas are the Guv's relatively small tax cut package and the Dems equally modest jobs initiative.

The punch bowl was long ago drained and taken away. There will be no repeat of those manic boom years--at least not in any time frame that matters. New Mexico has entered a new era of minimalism. As a result Santa Fe looks much smaller and much less interesting. It carries on like a lone sentry who is guarding the fort in the wee morning hours. He waits for something to happen but it rarely does.


When the stakes are low, the players can get sloppy:

In a rare procedural move, Gov. Martinez reversed course by scaling back the scope of topics up for debate in the House during the ongoing 30-day legislative session...Martinez issued 80 so-called executive messages last week, the first week of the legislative session, clearing the way for debate on issues ranging from reinstatement of the death penalty to transporting hay. However, after Martinez staffers met with legislative leaders...the Governor’s Office requested that 34 messages to the House be withdrawn..In addition, 12 new messages were introduced, in some cases replacing messages that had been pulled back.
Some legislative leaders had expressed concern that the large scope of the executive messages could lead to a logjam of bills.

When Martinez hired a former GOP legislator as her chief of staff observers speculated that it would make for smooth sailing for the Guv in dealing with lawmakers. It hasn't happened. Hey, maybe they can call back former Rep. Brian Moore who was a deputy chief of staff in the Guv's office, but didn't last long.


Readers of this space have known of the soaring costs of lawsuits against the City of ABQ in police misconduct cases. Retired APD Seargent Dan Klein alerted us last year that the costs was approaching $7 million for the last two years--since Mayor Berry took over--and TV news came with a December report. Now the news comes from the ABQ Journal which pegs the lawsuit costs at $8 million for the last two years. From Jan. 2010 to August 2011 there were 20 police shootings, 15 of them fatal. Lawsuits stemming from most of those shootings are still pending. But that's only part of the story. Most of these misconduct cases have been settled out of court and that's where one of our Alligators comes in:

Missing from the ABQ Journal story was any real investigation of where the checks are going and why. Prior to become the City Attorney and then the Chief Administrative Officer, Rob Perry was a plaintiff's lawyer who officed at the law firm of Kennedy and Hahn.

Between February 4, 2010 and December 6, 2011 the City of Albuquerque has cut 24 checks to Kennedy and Hahn and the Kennedy Law Firm (15 to Kennedy/Hahn and 9 to Kennedy). The total dollar amount is $2,553,015.00 Depending on the arrangement, attorneys receive anywhere from one-third to one-half of amounts won. That could mean anywhere from from $850,000 to $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars have gone to plaintiff lawyers under the oversight of former plaintiff lawyer Perry.

All of these cases could easily have gone to court and been tried. But why do that when you have what are essentially corporate lawyers in the City Attorney's office who are terrified of a courtroom and a CAO who seems willing to open the city's coffers and cut checks to his former trial lawyer pals?

That's heavy ammo fired in CAO Perry's direction, but not without reason. We welcome any comments from his corner.

Nancy Lopez
Reader Susan Loubet joined in on the discussion here of what should be the top five NM sports stories since statehood by saying:

How about as a top five sports story Nancy Lopez being able to play on the Roswell golf team after Congress passed Title IX--the law mandating gender equality in school athletics?

But veteran ABQ attorney Roberta Cooper Ramo says the record needs to be corrected:

Joe, Susan Loubet is right that Nancy Lopez deserves lots of attention for all of her sports accomplishments. It was not Title IX that allowed Nancy to play on the boys team at her high school in Roswell, it had not yet been enacted.

Nancy was looking forward to her playing on the boys team because there were no girls teams in New Mexico high schools. When the New Mexico Activities Association sent the Goddard High principal a letter indicating that Nancy could not play on the high school golf team, her parents ended up contacting the ACLU. Soon Nancy and her parents were joined by several girls who played tennis. This went to the State School Board...and the rule was overturned.

One of the best moments was when I was given a settlement offer that would have meant that only Nancy as a national champion could have played. When I explained the offer, Mrs. Lopez asked if the girls who wanted to play tennis would also be allowed to play. When I said no, she told me to get back to Albuquerque and not come back until “all of the girls can play.” This was a moment of great courage and principle for the Lopez family.

...From this story and many others around the country came the important advances for women athletes in the subsequent passage of Title IX. But the state of New Mexico and many of its people deserve credit for leading the way and Nancy’s national prominence was a huge part of making that happen.

Interesting stuff. It brings back memories of Nancy's incredible rookie season on the LPGA tour when she won nine tournaments. The Chaves County native now lives in Georgia, but her contribution to civil rights here as well as her worldwide contribution to the growth of women's golf is truly one of the top stories--sports or otherwise--during New Mexico's first 100 years of statehood.

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