Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Los Alamos Layoff Debacle; Sudden But Not Surprising, Plus: Balderas And His One Big Chance, And: R's Appear To Back Off ABQ Congress Seat 

We took our trip to Washington to visit the state's congressional delegation last week sensing that the foot was about to drop on New Mexico and wrote of it extensively on Tueday's blog, but the suddenness of the announcement that major layoffs are coming to Los Alamos Labs startled us and surely the state. (The AP report is here.)

It's an economic debacle for a large swath of northern New Mexico, dependent as it is on the over $2 billion that come into the nuclear weapons development complex. The storied history of the Labs and its development of the first Atomic bomb is stuff for the ages. For over sixty years the facility has been mostly on a growth curve. That era is now over as LANL says it expects the 400 to 800 layoffs it announced Tuesday to be a forerunner of a permanently smaller lab force. The fiscal 2013 budget is $300 million lower than the previous year. A second grader can do the math. 800 layoffs would be over 10 percent of the labs 7,600 permanent work force. All told with contractors and others LA employs 11,127. It is the heart and lungs of much of the northern economy.

Those being "voluntarily separated" this time are expected to get healthy separation packages, but they will no longer be drawing those $150,000 plus annual salaries that help prop up retail sales and housing prices in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties. No one can say how many indirect jobs will be lost as a result of Tuesday's announcement, but it will be significant.

You can tie the Los Alamos layoffs directly to the retirement of NM Senator Pete Domenici. The GOP lawmaker protected Los Alamos like one of his children. He staved off the shut down of a multi-billion dollar facility to handle plutonium, but with him gone the Obama administration and Congress have moved and there is no one in the state's congressional delegation with enough clout to stop them.

GOP US Senate contender Heather Wilson has been on the Los Alamos story like white on rice. She laid blame for the layoffs directly at the doorstep of the Dem President and the state's congressional delegation which she hopes to join:

....That commitment included replacing a 60-year-old facility at Los Alamos for handling plutonium. In his new budget, however, President Obama has broken that commitment. And as a result, an estimated 1,000 jobs will be killed for 10 years in Los Alamos.

Heather's quotes on the delegation are on Tuesday's blog in which she says the state "needs someone to fight for our national laboratories." They were made last week in response to proposed budget cuts.

Wilson will now be pressed on how she could do better for the labs as a freshman Senator--perhaps in the minority and with no seniority. How exactly would she "fight" to keep the cash coming? Same for Dem. Rep. Martin Heinrich who would enter the Senate as a newbie if he were to win the fall prize.

Governor Martinez pointed to both sides of the political aisle as she assigned blame for the Los Alamos layoffs:

She also believes these cuts are yet another by-product of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and the inability to appropriately prioritize national defense and national security in federal spending decisions.

But now it's time for the Guv to partner with the congressional delegation in a nonpartisan matter and try to hold the line against additional layoffs. (Now you know why we have been pounding the table for the NM Spaceport and its potential to create hundreds of scientific positions we are losing).

The budget for Sandia National Labs in ABQ, also an over $2 billion federally-funded nuclear weapons facility, is not as imperiled as Los Alamos. Initial budget projects show it getting an increase next year, but gang buster growth--barring a new economic boom--is not in store. It is less politically painful for Washington to hit Los Alamos. Sandia is lifeblood for ABQ, the state's largest city and where elections are most often decided.

Back up north, Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan will be on the defensive from his Republican rival over the lab layoffs, but he has such a heavy leaning Dem district that he will escape most of the political heat. Still, he has to watch his back in this freshly fragile economic environment.

As we've been writing, this is a new economic era for New Mexico. Nothing is sacrosanct, not even the historic national labs so closely intertwined with American national security. History is being cruel to us. We are losing our Washington seniority in the middle of the worst downturn since the 30's. Any other time and the consequences may not have been as great, but now the very nature of this state's future is on the line.

The state motto says "It grows as it goes." In light of the Los Alamos news we ask, "Does it?"

Hector Balderas
The Democratic race for the US Senate nomination is nearing what could be either its climax or a new beginning. On March 10 the state pre-primary convention will be held and it is there that conventional wisdom holds that State Auditor Hector Balderas must make a stand or fold his hand. We wrote as much this week, drawing this response from Preciliano Martin in Raton:

Joe, your bias here is getting obvious when you blogged: "US Rep. Martin Heinrich, the likely Dem nominee"

You might try and not be so bold. Hector has a real good chance of being the Democratic nominee, his star in this race is rising. Watch for the state pre-primary convention March 10th.

Well, we don't see it as bias as much as political reality. Early polling, money raising and opinionated insiders and Alligators all have Heinrich leading.

However, Balderas has been relying on grassroots support and that's what he'll need at the pre-primary convention to shake this race up and get him back in serious contention. All the better if he beats Heinrich, but if he can keep it within a couple of points that could also revive his fund-raising and his candidacy. Even top level Balderas aides acknowledge his need for a powerful pre-primary performance so it's not untoward to call Heinrich the likely nominee. We just need to clarify that the assessment is subject to change come March 10.

As for Heinrich, he is drawing the battle lines over two key issues that will be at stake when the Dem nominee faces off with probable GOP winner Heather Wilson:

As your next U.S. Senator from New Mexico, I will fight any effort to privatize these crucial programs, and will always stand on the side of America’s seniors when Social Security and Medicare are at risk.

We've been down this road with Heather before when as a congresswoman she flirted with the idea of privatizing Social Security and Medicare, if only briefly. Since the economic dive seniors have been even more dependent on these programs and Wilson could once again find herself playing defense. Here's the 2005 quote the Dems will try to use to pin her down:

"Wilson refuses to be pinned down on whether she would support the type of privatization strategy proposed by Bush -- Wilson refused to discuss the issue Tuesday." [Albuquerque Tribune, 2/25/05] against the wall:

Later in a 2004 debate with Dem Richard Romero, her rival for the House seat, Wilson gave a one word response when he asked her if she was for privatization. "No." she declared. Romero failed to follow up, a mistake the Dems are unlikely to make again....

Speaking of Richard Romero, the former State Senate President Pro Tem, who ran two unsuccessful races against Heather in 2002 and 2004, what's he up to now? From the campaign news mill:

As a former Democratic nominee for Congress, I recognize when the political climate is right, and now is the time to send a real progressive--Eric Griego--to Washington. I also know that running for office takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Eric is the right man for the job, and that's why I heartily endorse Eric Griego for Congress and ask you to join me for an event to support him.

Griego is tangling with former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez and Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham. And speaking of that.....


It's a good time to bring you up to date on the current thinking on the race for the ABQ congressional seat which is being vacated by Heinrich. While on Capitol Hill in Washington last week we spoke with Roll Call and its reporter Kyle Trygstad:

New Mexico's 1st district, a battleground for more than a decade, is in danger of sliding off the radar for national Republicans in 2012. All eyes in Albuquerque are on a potentially nasty Democratic primary between three well-financed current or former elected officials. Given its recent voting history, a competitive open-seat race could still develop before November, but at this point Republicans view the race to replace Rep. Martin Heinrich as an uphill climb."It doesn't look like the Republicans are as positioned to put up as big of a fight for that seat as they have in the past, and that's a pretty dramatic development," said Joe Monahan, a plugged-in independent political analyst in New Mexico.

"You need a heavyweight Republican in this district now more than ever because the district has just gotten more blue."....Stephen Clermont, a Democratic pollster who has worked extensively in New Mexico, said the district, won by a Republican in 2006 and a Democrat in 2008, is no longer viewed by the parties as essential to winning the House majority. "The GOP can lose this seat again and still maintain House control," Clermont said. "Winning it will be a luxury for them. It is not a bellwether anymore."

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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