Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Session 2012: Up Close & Personal With The Top Sources: Speaker's Health, Power Struggles, The Gov & More; Santa Fe Under The Scope On Opening Day 

  • Santa Fe drama--House Speaker Ben Lujan announced during the noon hour at the opening session of the Legislature that he has stage 4 lung cancer and will not seek re-election to the chamber. He said he has been dealing with the cancer privately for several years.
  • He was speaker for 12 years, the second longest run in the position in state history
  • Lujan indicates he will be around for this 30 day session. House Majority Leader Ken Martinez is the favorite to replace Lujan in the Dem-controlled House.

    We've called upon our top sources in New Mexican politics--the Senior Alligators, the Wall-Leaners, the Hangers-On, the Wanna-Be's and more--to give you an exclusive inside perspective on what is really happening as the 2012 New Mexico legislative session convenes for 30 days in Santa Fe today. It's titillating and scintillating info so let's get right into it:

We have been told Speaker Ben Lujan has been ill. Since last January there have been rumors about the Speaker's health, and his participation in interim committees has fueled those rumors. Then Speaker did not hold his annual holiday fundraiser in December, which is put together by the lobbyist heavy weights. He has promised retirement to get votes.

The Speaker did not take the lead in the recent legislative redistricting trial despite Judge Hall's ruling that it was the Speaker's directives to maintain northern legislative seats that was ultimately the key flaw in the Democrats' case. The successful Republican strategy at trial was to challenge Speaker Lujan's motivations in passing the House plan.


If Lujan goes from the Speaker's chair after more than a decade of wielding the gavel who takes the second most powerful position in the New Mexican government? To the Senior Alligators;

If the House stays Democratic after the November election, Rep. Ken Martinez of Grants is Speaker Lujan's designated successor. The mantle will get passed down to Martinez despite his past attempt to defeat the Speaker. Since then Martinez has been duly chastised and obedient to the Speaker. Lujan really has no other choice but Martinez in order to keep power within the historic Santa Fe circle. Although Martinez is from Grants, his father--the late Walter Martinez-- was the former Speaker and a mentor to former Speaker Raymond Sanchez as well as Speaker Lujan. So Martinez is as close to a Santa Fe insider as there is to choose from.

House Democrats don't like to rock the boat or shake things up like they do in the Senate. House Dems are poised to go along with a succession plan that keeps the Speaker's chair in the posession of the North. That's the way it has been going all the way back to the 1970's when Ken's dad was Speaker.


But what if the Republicans pick up the handful of House seats they need to become a majority and do so for the first time in decades. That scenario is also being gamed out by our expert Wall-Leaners:

There is a great deal of talk about Republicans taking over the House after the House Democrats lost big in the 2012 elections, and now in court after redistricting. The Republicans have been on a huge roll for two years in the House, and there is now a lot of speculation about who would be the Republican Speaker and chairmen of the major committees. Rep. Don Bratton (Lea County) is thought most likely as a Republican speaker.

While Democrats are worried about moving their offices to the capitol annex, they are also counting on the Obama team to hold on to the House by a vote or two.
Either way the power is now moving entirely to the Senate, and at least for the remainder of Governor Martinez's term the House will be mostly an afterthought. The Senate is highly unlikely to go Republican in November. There, Senators often exercise their power in a bipartisan way to effectively check and balance both the House and Governor.

Unless she is re-elected and wants to wait again until the 2016 election, Susana will not likely make any more progress with the Senate than she has had so far.


Now expert analysis from the halls of the Roundhouse with those deep on the inside on how this session can be expected to play out:

The session will be almost entirely about the coming campaigns despite the pressing issues you have raised in your blog. Susana has made clear she wants to replace Dem legislators . She will be told to set up targeted Dems for bad votes difficult to defend in November. Her political handlers can look forward to making a lot of money working to capture the 3 or 4 votes needed to take over the House. The House is merely in a survival mode getting by vote by vote, and day by day. With margins slim, every committee vote becomes a problem unless every member is present.

[Joe, by the way and as a tidbit--The seemingly bizarre daily schedule of the September special session--the hours the House was on the floor and the Republican complaints of nothing going on--were often driven by the fact that Rep. Richard Vigil, a bus contractor, needed to be driving his bus twice a day every weekday. With every vote needed, the floor sessions were scheduled around Richard's daily absences. An example of what happens when the margin between the two parties is only one.}

Expect a session filled with automated telephone calls into members' districts, and a strategic political blitz coming from the Fifth Floor. (The "Fifth Floor" is a reference to Susana's powerful political consultant Jay McCleskey). But hot button legislation and posturing will also deepen the Susana fatigue and animosity which has set in with Dems and Repubs alike. Despite Susana's new overtures to work with legislators, it is probably too little and too late for second chance to make a good first impression, and the sincerity of the new overtures will remain suspect.

Susana has made clear she wants Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez out of her way, and his Senate allies will stop her agenda there because the House can't. With Senators up for election only every four years, and with new districts, the Senate will be focused on those elections.


Now we get the current zeitgeist from the Hangers-on in the state's capital city as the power making and power playing commence:

The fact that the legislators were in session almost three months of the past year, and just came off the special session, there is a lot of Santa Fe burned out. The fact that there is very little new or anything exciting coming from the Governor contributes to a new Santa Fe malaise. For all his many faults former Governor Richardson has left a huge leadership vacuum in the capitol, which Susana and her team have not come close to filling. Legislators were unaccustomed to setting the agenda for eight years while Richardson was at the helm, and so now nobody is leading or remembers how.


Our Santa Fe Alligators now details for you how power in this government is being divided:

The ruling coalition of Dems and R's working together in the Senate are for the most part governing this state. The redistricting trial is very good example of where things stand. The Senate Dems, R's and the Governor coming together and working out a compromise for a Senate redistricting plan is a good example of the bipartisanship required for any progress in a divided government in the next three years. It is also a good example of how the House is likely to be sacrificed in the process.

That Senate coalition will be tested occasionally on bills repealing driver's licenses for illegals and establishing voter I.D. . But mature experience and leadership are present with the likes of Senators Jennings, Smith, Sanchez, Ingle and others. They can lead Susana along if she wants to accomplish anything in her remaining three years.


Even more exclusive, must-read analysis from New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan and its corp of Senior Alligators:

In a 30 day session the Governor exclusively controls the policy agenda and everything but appropriations. There hasn't been anything resembling a bold agenda announced from the Governor yet, and she did not engage much through the interim committees to develop an agenda over the past year. You have proposed a better explained agenda in your own blog so hopefully the Governor is reading and taking notes on your ideas.

With less than a week before the 2012 opening it is probably too late for anything resembling the promised boldness we heard during the 2010 campaign, and this administration is still on training wheels when it comes to governing.

And there you have it. Quite the breathtaking wrap up from the Gators and more to come in the weeks ahead. Certainly we have not heard the last of news broken here today about the Speaker's health status--whatever it is.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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