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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mitt And New Mexico: Lots At Stake For Us If He Wins; Who Will Carry The State's Message? Plus: Nervous Heather Starts To Throw Ryan Overboard, And: The Econ Beat; City Still Flat Lined 


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GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won't be just filling his campaign coffers when he stops off in Hobbs in Lea County on Thursday. There will also be an event for the "little folk" who might not be able to afford to be with Mitt at his fund-raising reception where the cheap seats will be going for a thousand and a pop and where some will drop more than $50,000 to support committees working for Romney.

The soon-to-be official 2012 Republican presidential nominee will attend what is being dubbed as an "Energy Event"at 10:30 Thursday morning at Watson Truck & Supply in Hobbs. It's assumed he will talk about his national energy policy as he takes the stage in oil rich Lea County.

Hobbs may be four hours away from ABQ but it is in the ABQ media market and the TV stations are sure to staff the event, giving Mitt his first chance to address New Mexicans directly.

It doesn't get any friendlier for a GOP presidential candidate than Lea County. You've heard us tell the story of how on Election Night 2004 we were broadcasting the results on public radio when we saw the county breaking 80% to 20%. We did a double-take, thinking the 20% was a Green Party candidate or something, but it was Dem presidential nominee John Kerry getting blown off the map.

Veteran political consultant Karl Rove brilliantly organized New Mexico that year, boosting turnout in rural New Mexico to give Bush the win (he became the first sitting president to ever visit Hobbs during that campaign). Could Mitt win as big? He doesn't have the same appeal to pull off that kind of performance, but he might be able to do better in the cities. His election as Governor of Massachusetts shows he can play ball at center court, but the R's and Mitt have been pushed so far to the right, he might not be able to make the move here.

Still, Romney has a shot at being president of the USA, even if New Mexico is not in his win column. Local Republican leaders need to ensure that he is not only informed about our energy abundance, but also the vital role the state plays in national security and our history of federal funding. For decades that chore fell on the shoulders of GOP Senator Pete Domenici, but he is gone. US Senate candidate and former GOP Congrsswoman Heather Wilson is equipped to be his successor, but she may not get the chance. Southern NM Congressman Steve Pearce has cachet, but he is not a statewide force.

Governor Martinez won't be at the Hobbs event Thursday but she will see Romney next week at the GOP national convention in Tampa where she will give a prime time speech (Martinez will speak right before the keynote speaker on the convention’s second night.) One hopes that a friendship between the pair can be solidified that will work in the state's interest, if Romney takes over the Oval Office. Martinez will be around for at least the first two years of a Romney administration.

Mitt's selection of budget-cutter Paul Ryan as his running mate has made many here nervous, including many in his own party who are federal contractors employing thousands (More on this below). But Romney comes across strong on foreign policy and would appear to welcome a briefing on our state's historic role in advancing national security, defense as well as energy. The question is whether the state's Republican leadership will pick up where Senator Domenici left off and ensure that small New Mexico has an out sized presence in the mind of the man who may become the federal government's chief policy maker.

Governor Martinez has won the attention of Team Romney because of her unique status as the nation's first female Hispanic Governor. Can she now go beyond that and become a player for the state in regards to the immense federal presence here? She has not shown any predilection thus far for doing so, but if Romney's visit here gets her thinking about it, it will have been worthwhile.

RUNNING AWAY

GOP US Senate candidate Heather Wilson, running behind in all polling, is now starting to more firmly separate herself from Paul Ryan and his controversial budget plans. She gave this quote as she responded to renewed attacks from Dem rival Martin Heinrich:

...Wilson told The Hill on Tuesday that she has “been very clear that I have concerns about the budget Congressman Ryan proposed 18 months ago,” and voted against a version of it while serving in Congress in 2007. "If I oppose something, that's now recorded as 'implicit'?" Wilson said. “Had I been in the Senate and on the budget committee and the Ryan budget came over, I would have worked on getting an alternative,” Wilson added, elaborating that she has worries about what the Ryan plan would do to Medicare.

For two years Wilson has refused to say how she would have voted on the Ryan budget. Just recently she praised Ryan's "bold ideas." We've called it "Wilson's riddle" but this is a cleaner break with him, especially that crucial reference to  Medicare.

Heinrich's campaign immediately pointed out that Wilson's tougher talk on Ryan shows she is trying to "have it both ways." Yep, she is. But the public has seen it all before. It's not necessarily where Wilson started that counts--as wrong as it may have been--it's where she ends up.

It's the right move for Heather, even if the Tea Party doesn't like it. If she is to become the next US Senator for New Mexico she must be the one throwing baggage off the ship, moving to the vital center and redefining Republcianism for a large segment of the New Mexican electorate that has come to revile the brand. No wonder she is not going to next week's national GOP convention.

Wilson has to form her own party if she is to get out of the penalty box and back in this game. This new positioning on Ryan's budget is a start (Did you hear her, Janice Arnold-Jones?).

THE ECON BEAT

The permanent campaign is always a big story around here, but what has become a permanent economic malaise continues to compete with it for attention. For example, our City Hall watchers report that ABQ tax collections for July--the first month of the new budget year--are down a tenth of a percent compared to last year. In other words, the city economy continues to flat line. Sometimes we wonder if this town's new slogan should be "Got Space" as those signs advertising retail vacancies are as ubiquitous as luminarias at Christmas time.

The city has been bleeding government jobs as well as professional sector employment. And a cornerstone of the local economy--tourism--continues to struggle. Look at the hotel occupancy rate for the peak summer month of July:

The report shows that in 2011, July was the top-rated month for occupancy, with New Mexico hotel rooms 70.9 percent occupied. That decreased to 64.7 percent in July 2012. Albuquerque’s year-to-date hotel occupancy rate fell to 60 percent in 2012 from 61.8 percent in 2011. The Santa Fe year-to-date occupancy rate dropped from 58.9 percent in 2011 to 56.8 percent in 2012.

There are probably a variety of reasons for the plunge in the occupancy rate, but we've been among those pounding the table over the lack of promotion of the state. Repeated smoke signals to up the tourism advertising budget have been sent to Governor Susana, the tourism department and the Legislature. The argument being that we need to show off the natural wonders of this state to get people to visit and drop their dollars. Well, maybe the smoke signals were sent at night because there's no sign that Santa Fe sees much of anything--except the next election.

THE BEAR MARKET

Joe Craig of Craig and Co., an ABQ consulting firm, writes that not all of New Mexico is acting like a slacker:

Went to Carlsbad and had to book a room two weeks in advance. Motels were booked, restaurants were full. Carlsbad Schools are preparing for a bond in February for $60 million. New $9-10 million addition to the Eddy County Sheriff's office is being awarded for design. Roswell, Artesia, Hobbs all looked prosperous. Of course that is oil or energy money as they call it. Poor little Lovington looked like it needed some loving, but hey one out of 5 towns ain't bad.

Kept mulling over the economic black hole that is ABQ/Santa Fe on the long drive back. The best conclusion that I came to is lack of leadership in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Albuquerque Public Schools are telling me that enrollment is down. Duh! There's positive job growth in all the states around us and we are showing consistent negatives.


TRACKING THE BEAR

New Mexico native Danny Lopez reads us from Washington, DC every day and comes with a lament that we've heard for several generations. But it bears repeating:

Joe, I have been following your blogs regarding the Governor's and Mayor's performance and stance on NM economic development. I think this link about Pittsburgh brings home the fact that New Mexico is losing a golden opportunity with the Hollywood film industry.  


I am one of those young professionals (38 years) that recently left New Mexico in an effort to seek greener professional and economic pastures. Although I plan to return home at some point, I was saddened and frustrated that I felt that I had to leave as jobs and professional opportunities are hard to come by there. I hope that the City and State gets their acts together soon and begin to invest in the plethora of people and resources that are available and within reach. 

Albuquerque has so much potential and hearing how people from outside New Mexico speak highly about our State, it baffles me that New Mexico government and businesses are not doing more. We are sitting on a true gem but if we are not proactive it seems that we will suffer the fate of the fictional New Mexican communities in John Nichols' "Milagro Beanfield War" and eventually be exploited by non New Mexican industry. We New Mexicans need to recognize our worth and work together to better position ourselves and our resources on the national political and economic stages. 

It's sad to say but if you are a young professional in the ABQ area nearing 30 and still not hitting it, you may have to hit the road--or else risk becoming a thirtysomething slacker.

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