Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Dateline DC: New Mexico Delegation Faces New Era Without Old Strength; We Head East For A Close-Up View, Plus: More On State's Education Future
New Mexico's future problems with Uncle Sam won't be because the New Mexico congressional delegation doesn't have crackerjack staffs or that each member isn't intensely dedicated to the needs of the state. On both accounts they pass with flying colors. What ails us is a simple matter of seniority.
After our visit to Washington D.C. last week during which we visited with each of the five members, their staffs, pollsters, consultants and a couple of Potomac Alligators, we are on red alert for the consequences of another big drop in the state's seniority in the national capital that will take hold in 2013.
The first shoe dropped when 36 year veteran GOP Senator Domenici retired. At the end of the year, Jeff Bingaman, who will end his run with 30 years under his belt and who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, heads for the exits. Add to that the fact that our three US House members are all far down the pecking order and you have major worries about the immense federal funding this place gets. We rank first among the states in federal funds received per capita.
It's not just the demise of our seniority that is about to present the state with a major funding challenge. It is, as Senator Bingaman told me, "a new era of austerity."
"That era is with us for at least several years, regardless of who is elected president, " he remarked.
We pointed out Bingaman's recent news release that says the latest Obama budget flat lines Department of Energy funding into New Mexico at $4.4 billion, the same as the previous year. In this new era a flat budget is actually perceived as good news. Now that's a change from decades past when the delegation boasted of incremental increases and ever higher employment levels at the national labs as well as the defense establishment.
Insiders on the Hill say Los Alamos National Labs is more vulnerable to funding struggles that Sandia National Labs in ABQ and that's already noticeable in the Obama budget which takes the budget ax to a controversial nuclear replacement there. GOP US Senate candidate Heather Wilson came with hard-hitting language that could resonate mightily with New Mexicans who are well aware of how vital this cash flow is:
Not only is this bad for our country and its national security, it's bad for New Mexico and our economy. I believe we need a handful of people who will steward our nation's defense even in a time of peace. New Mexico needs someone who will fight for our laboratories--someone who understands our state's unique contributions to national security. Since Senator Pete Domenici retired, we have not had a voice in Washington in our delegation who really understands New Mexico's contributions to the national defense of our country. I intend to stand up for New Mexico and fight for our labs when I am elected to the US Senate...
That's vintage Heather. She's not about to bring a knife to a gunfight and a gunfight is what we are going to have in the US Senate. It's a powerful framing of the stakes of the 2012 election. Of course, her own record as a ten year congresswoman will also be put under the microscope.
There's a bit of a paradox to Wilson. She isn't warm and fuzzy and that's going to cause her problems getting elected, but it is the very lack of those qualities that make her willing to go to the mat and kick the necessary ass in the Senate that someone is going to have to do if we are to maintain our economy.
US Rep. Martin Heinrich, the likely Dem nominee, has also shown a fighting side. He was labeled a far leftie, but landed a spot on the House Armed Services Committee, fought to save at least a remnant of the flying Tacos at Kirtland Air Force Base and seems willing, like Wilson, to follow in the tradition of Dennis Chavez, Clinton Anderson and Pete Domenici and bring home the bacon.
Northern Rep. Ben Ray Lujan told me he continues to press for Los Alamos to diversify its mission in order to safeguard its budget. But that has been easier said than done.
It would be hype to call this year's presidential election one of the most important of our lifetimes, but not so for New Mexicans and the US Senate race. Bingaman's age of austerity means the knives in Washington are sharpened and ready for us. Our next Senator will indeed have to shed blood to get their way. Heck, they might even have to sacrifice an arm and a leg.
More throughout the week on our impressions from our Washington adventure so be sure to tune in
NOT MUCH SWINGING
As of now, New Mexico isn't doing much swinging when it comes to
the presidential race.
A new telephone survey of Likely New Mexico Voters finds the president earning 55% of the vote against both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Santorum picks up 37% support. Four percent (4%) prefer some other candidate, and four percent (4%) more are undecided.
The poll was conducted Feb. 14.
Reader reaction continues to come in on that Friday commentary we did on the legislative defeat of a constitutional amendment that would have asked voters to use a portion of the state's $10 billion Permanent Fund and devote it to childhood education and development. The point being to try to directly attack the generational poverty and illiteracy which afflicts the state. Young Democrat Bryan Wilcox at the University of New Mexico came with this:
I wrote a paper on Hispanics' adherence to the American Dream with Professor Gabe Sanchez at UNM, one of the leading experts on Hispanic politics in the country. I found that the general Hispanic population actually values education more than non-Hispanics. Moreover, I found that 93.8 percent of Hispanics would like to see their children acquire a post high school education. 86 percent of respondents believe that their children will succeed in attaining a post high school education. In actuality, however, we know that Hispanics do not achieve the hopes of their families. In the paper I suggest that if Hispanics achieved the level of academic success their families hoped for, they would be much more educated than non-Hispanics. In a recent poll, education ranks the fourth most important issue for Hispanics with 16% claiming it is the most important issue.
Well. everyone says they want their kids to succeed, but the school dropout rate and illiteracy is higher among Hispanics than Anglos. Whatever the cause, an investment from the Permanent Fund to get at very young children of all races before they set down the path to failure still seems prudent to this corner and a lost opportunity in Santa Fe.
Here's another thought from Tina Barton of Santa Fe, a former elementary school teacher:
Monday's comments about students' parents are on target; many parents lack education themselves. In that vein, I was pleased to see First Gentleman Chuck Franco espousing one of his projects: literacy education for parents & other adults who cannot help students due to their own lack of education. As a former law enforcement official, Mr. Franco has undoubtedly seen some of the many social problems that can result from a lack of education.
Thanks, Tina. We did a story on Franco's involvement in the fight against illiteracy on January 31.
MOORES FOR SENATE
When ABQ GOP State Sen. Kent Cravens resigned to take a job with the oil and gas association the Alligators said look to his old friend Mark Moores to try to succeed him. And that's just what is sharpening, Moores, executive director fot eh NM Dental Association, Cravens' old job says he is seeking the GOP nod for the seat. That nomination is worth something. Lisa Curtis, a Democrat and president of the NM Trial Lawyers Association, managed to get appointed to the seat as the result of political maneuvers by the Bernalillo and Sandoval county commissions. Moores is making that an issue in the campaign.
Moores has experience in the GOP, having worked the political side former auto dealer Ken Zangara who played at the highest levels of the state party until business dealings gone back brought him down. Curtis has said she will seek election to the seat. Moores is the first Republican to announce. He did not mention the role Senator Curtis played in the recent legislative session killing a legal immunity bill for the NM Spaceport and for which she took stinging criticism. The Spaceport is located north of Las Cruces.
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