Monday, February 13, 2012

Space Race: Santa Fe Backs Off As Others Charge Ahead, Plus: Guv Says Supremes Opinion "Laughable," And: Bill Clinton Goes For Marty In House Contest 

New Mexico's insularity and provincialism is often charming and comforting and even a great tourist attraction, but it can be deadly for advanced economic development. No where is that more evident than in Santa Fe where lawmakers have plunged a knife in the NM Spaceport by refusing to give spaceport suppliers and manufacturers immunity from most lawsuits by space travelers. Do they think we are the only ones in the space game? We're not. Texas, Virginia and Florida have already approved immunity.

The chances of getting an immunity bill reconsidered in the final week of this 30 day session are as remote as Mars, but if the miraculous occurs, there is a path to compromise (Yes, the dreaded "c" word):

Under a bill approved unanimously by the Colorado Legislature’s Senate Judiciary Committee, spaceflight companies could be sued only for the death or injury of passengers in cases of gross negligence or ignoring dangerous conditions. Passengers would have to sign an agreement acknowledging the company’s limited liability. The Colorado Trial Lawyers Association opposes general immunity from lawsuits, but agreed to remain neutral on the bill in exchange for an amendment clarifying that the prohibition applied only to spaceflight passengers.

If the Colorado trial lawyers can sign on to an immunity bill, whey can't their New Mexico brethren? Well, that takes us back to that "charming" insularity and provincialism. If not, perhaps newly appointed ABQ Dem state senator Lisa Curtis, who is also president of the NM Trial Lawyers Association and who personally wielded the Spaceport knife, can enlighten us?

It also didn't help that Governor Martinez dragged her feet on the Spaceport before finally embracing the project. She is pushing for reconsideration of the immunity bill as the stakes get higher for her. If the southern NM Spaceport founders, she will shoulder the blame. She may not have started it but she owns it.

Others say not to worry. That the bill can get done in 2013. Now there's something New Mexico understands how to get done--waiting.


The editorial pages of both the ABQ Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican don't often agree, but on the Spaceport they have found common ground. Both see it as a gateway to this state's economic future. Bully for them. From the New Mexican:

Generally, we abhor that states must continue to out-do each other...to attract corporate business...However, New Mexico has invested millions in the spaceport and stands to make millions more in tax revenues over the years. We are competitive -- for now -- in the race for space tourism and private commercial spaceflights. This (immunity) bill would keep New Mexico on an equal footing and protect our considerable investment, while at the same time still holding businesses accountable for gross negligence.

The New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, Senator Curtis and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez and House Majority Leader Kenny Martinez--also trial lawyers--need to take a good look in the mirror. Is a failed Spaceport and the cashiering of an enormous economic opportunity what they want as their legacy?

Sirs and Madam, please think globally--not provincially.

Sen. Curtis
Sorry, Senator Curtis, we're not done yet. We know you are battle-scarred from your years as a trial attorney, but that's child's play when it comes to the game of La Politica. Welcome to our world.

From the Las Cruces Sun-News and veteran Walt Rubel:

Of all the reasons given by all the New Mexico legislators for all of their votes this session, none are as absurd as the one offered by Sen. Lisa Curtis, who claimed that her vote against a bill to offer limited liability protection for spaceport manufacturers and suppliers was actually a good thing for our spaceport. Spaceport America will now be more attractive to people who want to take the risk of space travel, but would have shied away if suppliers and manufacturers had been granted limited liability from lawsuits, Curtis argued.

I can just see the promotional material now: "Come to Spaceport America! Your loved ones can sue for a bundle if you get killed in a horrible accident." It's a marketer's dream....Maybe Curtis actually thinks that way. Perhaps each summer as she is planning the family vacation the primary factor in her decision is the tort laws in each state she is considering visiting.

Don't take it personally, Lisa. It's just business--the business of this state and how it's going to provide economic opportunity for a generation pressing its noses against the window

Curtis faces long odds in keeping the ABQ NE Heights seat she was appointed to. It's heavy Republican. She may only have months left to serve. How about cutting a deal along the lines of what they did up in Colorado, Senator? If you don't and the Spaceport loses its viability because of it, no number of victories in your private life would ever overcome the public stigma.

Speaking of economic development or the lack thereof:

They made him wait over a year but Jon Barela has finally been confirmed by the state Senate as Secretary for Economic Development. What's kind of funny is that the news release announcing the news forgot to put the word "director" or "Secretary" in the lead. Never mind. We'll add it for them. From the spin machine:

The Senate confirmed Jon Barela as Economic Development Secretary unanimously on a vote of 38-0. Secretary Barela was sponsored for confirmation by Sen. Mary Jane Garcia (D) of Dona Ana and Sen. Bill Payne (R) of Albuquerque.

But don't get too excited, Jon. You weren't confirmed while you were thinking about running again for the GOP nomination for the ABQ US House seat. But now that you are not trying to stomp on the Dems, what the heck, call him Mr. Secretary. (And now that you have the title, Jon, can you turn the afterburners on for the Spaceport?).


As for legislative progress in this 30 day session, as the Alligators and wall-leaners predicted, this is going to be another mostly do-nothing gathering caught in the gridlock that snared Susana's first session:

Gov. Martinez faces the prospect of losing almost all of her high-profile initiatives. Martinez, a Republican facing a Democrat-controlled Legislature, already has been defeated on public safety, government consolidation, anti-abortion and crime bills that she endorsed. Still ahead is a legislative showdown on the state law that enables illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. Martinez wants the law repealed, and she has invested much of her energy and political capital in that initiative.

We will get a state budget which is the main purpose of the short session. It is the "all or nothing" philosophy of the far-right that is costing Martinez as well as an increasingly resentful Democratic legislative leadership. Normally you would get both sides in the room and bang some heads together, but in the new Santa Fe they bang each others heads against the Roundhouse walls.

There are still a few days. If we could get a deal on the Spaceport, a decent sized capital outlay bill and that Constitutional Amendment for childhood development that would be sent to the voters, the session, in our eyes, would be vindicated.


We don't know if she lost her cool or whether she has genuine contempt for them, but Governor Martinez, a former district attorney, called her latest setback before the NM Supreme Court "laughable."

You may not have caught that because she said it in an interview with KOAT-TV news while a less emotional statement from the Guv's official spinners made the rounds in the rest of the media.

"It's really laughable to read the opinion from the Supreme Court. It's a very partisan decision." Martinez said.

We can't find the video with the Guv's statement on the station's web site, but it aired at 6 p.m. Friday and the reporter who interviewed the Guv posted the extraordinary quote on her Twitter account.

It came in reaction to the Court's reversal of the redistricting decision for the state House handed down by a retired Dem judge they appointed. The reversal is a major score for House Dems and if it stands will make even longer the odds of the R's taking over the House.

But "laughable?" Is that how you appraise a co-equal branch of government? Well, the frustration may be boiling over for this Governor as she has been repeatedly rebuffed by the high court which has four Dem members and no R's. Chief Justice Daniels is a former Dem turned independent.

The last Republican Governor before Susana also showed contempt for the justices of his time. In the 90's Gary Johnson was so upset with the court ruling against his attempts to stretch the state Constitution that he declared that the court made its decisions through "chicken-bone voo-doo."

By calling the court opinion "laughable" Martinez holds it out for mockery--as strange as that may be for someone who is an attorney and who made her living as a longtime district attorney. This was a 33 page well-reasoned opinion. You may disagree with it, but it is anything but "laughable."

In fact, the last laugh will probably be on the Governor, despite her threats that the Federal courts will eventually give her what she wants in the way of redistricting. Republicans plan on filing suit with the Federal courts today. (By the way, how many millions in legal fees is all this costing taxpayers?)

Running the government is hard work. Political savvy, positioning, timing, compromise and subtlety are your tools. Used effectively, you get legislation and hopefully progress. Political platitudes and playground insults belong on the campaign trail where the consultants continue to carve an ever more moronic trail. If you use them to run a government, you're not going to be taken very seriously. Some people may even laugh.


The ABQ congressional race gets shaken up today, with the news of a big foot endorsement. Former President Bill Clinton will urge Dem voters to pick former Mayor Marty Chavez in what appears to be a three way battle for the nomination. From the Chavez camp comes the Clinton money quote:

I'm proud to endorse my friend Marty Chavez...Marty is a strong, visionary leader who created jobs and delivered the results New Mexican families needed as Mayor...In Congress, I know that Marty will take on our big challenges, stand up to special interests, and fight to create clean energy jobs in New Mexico because he's proven time and again that he can get the job done.

Chavez formed a friendship with Clinton in the early 90's when Bill was Prez and Marty was Mayor. The two played a celebrated round of golf together as Chavez was touted as one of the nation's new generation of leaders. He said of the endorsement:

There are few words that can be used to describe how unbelievably humbled and honored I am to receive the support of not only a great President, but someone who has so significantly changed the world we live in for the better. I am incredibly energized by the President's endorsement and the momentum it provides my campaign...

Chavez will use the presidential backing to raise funds and to try to separate himself from rivals Eric Griego and Michelle Lujan Grisham.

And we have more ABQ US House news:


This development could mean a higher cash count in the weeks ahead for ABQ Dem congressional hopeful Michelle Lujan Grisham:

EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, announced that it is moving Michelle Lujan Grisham from “On the List” to a full recommendation. “On the List” was created because of the dramatic growth in the EMILY’s List community who are getting their information earlier and on the web. “On the List” is a new way to connect candidates with supporters who are ready to take action now. Michelle Lujan Grisham is moving from “On the List” to a full recommendation.

Lujan Grisham has a lead in the money race with rivals Eric Griego and Marty Chavez. This endorsement from one of the largest PAC's out there should result in more national money.

The Bernalillo County Commissioner also recently picked up the endorsement of former Lt. Governor Diane Denish.

Overall, the race for the Dem nod appears to be a jump ball, with more clarity coming at the mid-March pre-primary convention when delegates vote for their favorite contenders. Organizationally, Griego and Chavez have the advantage because of their experience and Lujan Grisham's late start. Also, she dropped the ball in 2008 when she sought the Dem nod against Martin Heinrich. She had the money, but not the troops on the ground. Will it be different this time?

The lay of the land looks better for her. In a four way race in 2008, another Hispanic woman--Rebecca Vigil-Giron--was in the contest, taking 25% of the vote to Michelle's 23%. This time it's a three way race and the two Hispanic men could split up the pie, leaving her to mop up in the middle (Heinrich won the '08 nomination, scoring 43% of the vote).

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