Wednesday, February 29, 2012

GOP State Senate Intrigue: Team Susana Seen Hatching Plot To Oust Their Senate Leader, Plus: Heinrich On The Stump; How's That Going? 

Martinez vs. Ingle
More today on the the dark twist the Governor's relationship has taken with some state Senators of her own party and also the travails of her chief of staff--Keith Gardner--in dealing with the chamber.

Today we have a report from a former Republican lawmaker still in contact with his Santa Fe colleagues who sheds light on how the power playing in your government is taking shape. And we add how the Governor's political machine appears to be taking on members of her own party as it seeks to oust the Senate minority leader. First, our politico:

Friends say Senator Clint Harden is leaving because the Guv found someone to run against him. One reason seems to be his friendship with Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle who (Martinez chief political adviser) Jay McCleskey wants out of that position. Two R's who had other candidates to replace Harden were told to butt out unless they wanted to get on the wrong side of the Guv and that a final choice had been made (A niece of GOP Public Regulation Commission Chairman Pat Lyons, Angie Spears, is the GOP Senate candidate favored to replace Harden in the east side seat).

Guv Chief of Staff Keith Gardner is persona non grata in the Senate except for a few on the Guv's side. His bullying this last legislative session was the last straw and they will never let it happen again.

McCleskey is said to have told Republican Senators that he will target R's who side with those not succumbing to the Guv. That caused two previous supporters of the Guv to tell her that she may be high in the polls, but you're the lowest you can get in the Senate. Republican Senators can't remember anyone from their own party ever informing them that members of their own caucus were being targeted. They expect more Senators to leave because of threats and future disruption of legislative process..

Another GOP Senator leaving this cycle is Vern Asbill of Carlsbad and ABQ's Mark Boitano announced this week he is retiring. There are a total of five Senators who have announced they are departing so far--not the four we initially blogged Tuesday. The two Dems are Feldman and Griego.

Senate candidates have until March 20 to file their required petition signatures.


There were rumblings that Sen. Ingle, in the Senate game since '85, could draw a GOP challenger drafted by the Guv's operatives but the talk has since died down. If our former GOP Senator turned Alligator has it right, the play could be to try to round up enough votes to vote Ingle out as minority leader. Let's go behind the curtain and once again to the top sources in state politics and outline what may be McCleskey's strategy on behalf of Susana...

First, the Guv sees Ingle as too willing to work with the likes of veteran Dem Senator Tim Jennings and not pushing hard enough for her agenda. They don't like the institutional independence that Ingle has shown. That is the premise for dethroning him. Insiders say it will take only eight Republican votes to topple Ingle.

If SusanaPAC flush with cash comes out strong for the winning GOP candidates in the three state Senate seats that will switch hands because of retirements, we assume the Guv will have their votes for a new leader. That's only five to go. Senators Rod Adair and John Ryan are seen as easy anti-Ingle votes. Now we need only three to get a more Susana friendly GOP leader. And there are lots of easy pickings.

Ousting one of your own is a brutal business but Susana's strategy is to have her team be more hard-hitting with the majority Senate Dems. But going after your own is never without consequence. Fielding a strong GOP opponent against Ingle could make the Republican natives restless. (There was political gossip about having State Rep. Dennis Kintigh mounting a challenge to Ingle, but nothing came of it.)

Taking the leadership post away from Ingle, but not his seat would be the safe way. So far, that seems to be the play and if the vote count above is right, there is no need for Susana to provoke a bloody, cannibalistic and intramural feud over Ingle. Like Caesar, the killing can take place on the floor of the Senate.

And if you noted that the three retiring Senators and Ingle can be described as easier going conservatives with some moderate leanings, you had it right. Compromise and working across the aisle are dirty phrases in gridlocked Santa Fe. With Susana and company seeking retribution for those who cross the line, don't look for a new mood swing anytime soon.

Heinrich & Monahan On Capitol Hill
Can the often reserved and low-key Martin Heinrich fire up the Democratic base as he seeks the nomination for US Senate? Here's a first look at Heinrich's efforts in that regard. He belts out his new tune to the recent convention of Bernalillo County Dems, making sure there is plenty of red meat on topics like Medicare and the Bush tax cuts. He even takes a brief jab at probable GOP Senate nominee Heather Wilson.

Heinrich, 40, has come a long way quickly. He was first elected to the ABQ city council in 2003. He won election to the US House in 2008 and was re-elected in 2010. But he would not be the first New Mexico politican to take a relatively fast trajectory to the US Senate. Pete Domenici was 40 when he won his first Senate term. Retiring Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman who Heinrich hopes to succeed was 39 when he was elected in '82.

Like Heinrich, Domenici got his start in ABQ politics, serving six years on the then-city commission. Both men also come from decidedly working class backgrounds. Domenici went on to serve a state record of 36 years in the Senate, accumulating massive seniority. His 2009 departure is now being felt as federal budget cuts sting the state.

Heinrich and Domenici are not known for their warm and fuzzy personalities. The traits they share that have made them successful are a capacity for growth in their jobs and the ability to put together solid staffing that can ease the path.

As a native New Mexican of Italian descent Domenici had an easier time corralling the Hispanic vote than Heinrich who was born in Nevada and grew up in Missouri. He has to prove his connection to the locals and do it while being challenged for the Senate nomination by Hispanic native and State Auditor Hector Balderas. Not that Domenici had a clear path to his first Senate nomination. In 1972, Pete competed for the prize with six other Republicans.

We can safely say this is the most important United States Senate election in New Mexico in our lifetime. Our seniority on Capitol Hill will be at one of its lowest ebbs ever with the departure of Senator Bingaman. First term Senator Tom Udall is not going to follow in the footsteps of Domenici and those who preceded him when it comes to specializing in the federal presence here. And the federal dollars flowing into here have never been more threatened.

The new freshman Senator from New Mexico will bear a heavy load immediately upon taking office in 2013. They will be expected to make friends, but also to step on toes and fight to protect the billions that drive the state's economy. Substantial economic diversification and less federal dependence are decades away, if ever.

Whoever wins in November will score an impressive personal triumph, but whether they can translate it into a big win for the state is the great unknown.


We raised the possibility Tuesday of ABQ GOP State Rep. Conrad James seeking the state Senate seat held by Mark Boitano now that Boitano has announced his retirement. It seems it is more than a possibility. James posted this on his Facebook page:

Given the recent news, I am strongly considering a run for the District 18 Senate seat and will make my decision in the next couple days.

James's ABQ NE Heights district is going to look much less friendly to him when the redistricting is completed thus his look at the Senate seat.

(Wednesday morning James said he would not seek the Boitano seat but will seek re-election to the state House.)

In other Senate news, we are being told that ABQ Dem State Rep. Eleanor Chavez will soon formally announce that she will leave her Westside seat to seek the Dem nomination for the Senate seat held by Eric Griego who is leaving to run for the ABQ congressional slot. That means another new face for the state House as musical chairs continue this primary season.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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