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Monday, September 24, 2012

Now It's Jennings: Susana & Jay Unload On Senate Leader; Can They Win? Plus: More On The Guv's Campaign Against The Legislature, Also: In-Depth Coverage Of The State's Great Jobs Bleed And Our Stubborn Bear Market 

Jennings hit (click to enlarge)
Governor Susana Martinez, acting with a brashness rarely seen by a sitting Governor, has again unleashed political consultant Jay McCleskey--this time to work overtime to oust yet another key leader of the New Mexico Senate.

 McCleskey says the defeat of Senate President Pro Tem Tim Tim Jennings of Roswell and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen will pave the way for the enactment of Martinez's legislative agenda which has been largely thwarted by the Democratic-controlled Legislature since she took office in 2011. But there's much more to the story--and we've got it....

Today we bring you the first literature hit pieces being mailed against Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings by the Reform NM Now PAC run by McCleskey. The mailers boldly place Martinez squarely in the middle of the campaign, saying "if Martinez is for it, politician Tim Jennings is against it."

It seems that the personal antipathy toward Jennings so shockingly revealed in obscenity laced tape recordings of Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner is alive and well.

With her decision to allow McCleskey to also use her as the foil in the campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, Martinez has basically put her governorship on the line. If she ousts the leaders, it will be a major political coup, perhaps clearing the legislative roadblock that she says confronts her. But if she loses, there will be hell to pay. And the odds are long that both Jennings and Sanchez will be ejected from the Roundhouse.

Our Alligators in the Roswell area district that rancher Jennings has represented for over 30 years tell us that many Republicans--longtime friends of Democrat Jennings--are lined up behind him and not supporting his foe--26 year old Cliff Pirtle. Jennings, known as a conservative Democrat, has already received a cash contribution from a member of the Yates oil family of Artesia, dyed in the wool Republicans. And Roswell oilman Mark Murphy, who played a key role in ousting GOP State Rep. Dan Foley in 2008, is listed as a co-host on a Jennings fund-raiser. And there could be more Rs surfacing for Jennings in the days ahead.

RIPPING AT THE FABRIC

Jay hits Jennings (click to enlarge)
Clearly, Martinez and McCleskey are again tearing at the very fabric of state (and GOP) politics in an effort tot get their way. They bet and lost big in the Republican state senate primary in Clovis in June when they backed Angie Spears over Pat Woods. Rancher Woods cleaned Angie's clock, sending a message that voters don't like a Governor--any Governor--telling them who to vote for.

And in that battle McCleskey violated the #1 rule of political consultants. He became the issue by hitting too hard and too personal. Woods cut a TV spot featuring him as well as using Jay as the anti-Clovis poster boy in his mail pieces. It was effective.

Once again Jay is giving Jennings and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez a way to push back at Martinez without directly attacking the popular Governor.

In his campaign against Republican David Chavez, Sanchez snaps that  his opponent, is "a puppet for extremist Jay McCleskey's out of state corporations and special interests." McCleskey's PAC is spending major dollars against Sanchez as well as Jennings.

Jennings, in the Senate since '79, has not had to campaign in recent years, having had no serious GOP opponents and he could be vulnerable. But McCleskey's inability to keep a low profile gives Jennings the perfect issue: "Who should pick your Senator--you or the Governor and her henchman?

And if it isn't the perfect argument, why isn't Angie Spears picking out some new shoes to wear around the Roundhouse?

Win or lose, McCleskey is feasting financially this cycle. The reform NM PAC has raised more than $564,000. That includes least $230,000 from oil and gas interests and $250,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington.

The irony here is that all that Republican money from DC is being used to beat Jennings who was elected pro tem only because all Senate Republicans joined with a handful of conservative Democrats to give him the title.

Martinez is not officially connected to the Reform PAC, but that's a fig leaf.  It is more clear than ever that McCleskey is calling all the important shots in this administration, with the explicit backing of the chief executive.

THE REAL POINT

Does Martinez really believe that she and McCleskey alone can alter the political composition of the Senate? Probably not. But neither do they see their meddling extracting a political price at the polls in 2014. Positioning Martinez against the usually unpopular Legislature is just what Republican Governor Gary Johnson did in the 90's and he was rewarded with two terms. She too will campaign for re-election against the unproductive Legislature, deflecting any responsibility for the gridlock even as she exacerbates it by unleashing the dogs of war on the campaign trail.

But rather than moving the Legislature her way by vociferously attacking Sanchez and Jennings, she could actually bring them closer together. And don't forget, the Guv has already turned off Senate GOP Minority Leader Stu Ingle. And if all three are re-elected, she is going to be about as welcome in the Senate as a vegetarian at the Bull Ring.

Meanwhile, back in the mailboxes Susana's PAC touts her for re-election as a bipartisan figure seeking common ground on corruption reform measures. Talk about the tale of two cities...

Johnson had no legislative agenda to speak of (legalized gambling and private prisons being the exceptions) and he cast a record number of vetoes. Martinez's legislative priorities are mostly low-stakes, wedge issues. She lambastes Jennings and Sanchez over not repealing driver's licenses for undocumented workers and for road blocking her bill to hold back third graders who aren't proficient in reading. These are hardly earthshaking measures that are going to make a difference in the long-term.

In fact, if this Governor might be hard-pressed to name five significant pieces of legislation that she would pursue if she controlled the entire legislature. We don't think we would get much of an answer beyond the driver's licenses because it appears the agenda is to do as little as possible--and that suits a large swath of the electorate.

And therein lies the real story--this unprecedented campaign against the legislative leadership seems to be a fight for political control and power as ends in themselves. That's what political consultants are paid to do--to win--not govern. For Martinez the governorship is a personal triumph. She is all about winning and not enamored with the details of governing. If that were not the case, she would be carefully picking her campaign battles and plotting a legislative course.

THE BEAR MARKET


What's really important is hardly being discussed on the campaign trail--by either Dems or Republicans--but that doesn't alter what is a grim reality--the great jobs bleed continues, even as neighboring states start to get back on their feet. The latest:

New Mexico lost 12,400 jobs in the 12 months that ended on Aug. 31. The losses represented a job growth rate of negative 1.5 percent. Still, the state’s unemployment rate fell one tenth of a percent to 6.5 percent in that time, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. The drop in the unemployment rate was the result of a decrease in the state’s labor force. At the end of August, the labor force totaled 919,681, compared to 925,768 at the end of August 2011. The government sector lost 5,800 jobs during the period, professional and business services lost 5,700, construction was down 3,000, miscellaneous services lost 2,600 jobs, financial services lost 1,600, information lost 1,000 and retail trade was down by 700 jobs.

So what about that mantra from the Guv and ABQ mayor that "smaller government" is actually good for us? Where are the private sector jobs that are going to replace these valuable and valued government jobs that have kept this state's economy afloat for decades?

Mayor Berry, fresh back from an East Coast jobs-hunting trip, didn't appear to pick up any fresh ideas. He continues to blame tax policy for the jobs drought:

Mayor Richard Berry told the audience his recent economic development trip to the East Coast was informative, with many companies saying they would not consider the state as a place to do business because of its tax structure. Another problem, Berry said, is that many site selection experts and CEOs just don’t know much about New Mexico. 

We cut personal income tax rates for the highest earners, we offer God knows how many tax incentives and deductions and yet it is our tax structure preventing us from attracting jobs?

As for CEO's not knowing about New Mexico, it doesn't help when the state tourism department has a parsimonious promotional budget. Berry's complaint only reinforces the argument that we have to let people know more about the uniqueness of New Mexico. That means investing in promotion. It also brings to mind how Berry went silent when the state moved to reduce film industry incentives--incentives that attract film productions to ABQ which in turn promote the state to the outside world.

As Governor Martinez has pointed out--to her credit--it is the state's undereducated work force that is a prime suspect in influencing companies to go elsewhere. But baby steps like social promotion for third graders isn't going to change that. When you are at the bottom of the barrel in the poverty and education standings you need a full-sale frontal assault. You need that "bold change" that Martinez so loudly promoted during her campaign and which has been so noticeably absent in her doctrine of governing.

THE CONSTRUCTION BEAR

It's not only an educated workforce at issue, but the housing glut and bust that continues to zap us:

New Mexico had the steepest percentage construction job losses in the U.S. during August, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America based on U.S. Department of Labor statistics. The state lost 2,900 construction jobs, a 6.8 percent drop. Since August 2011, the Land of Enchantment has gone from 43,000 jobs to 39,600.

The Bear Market has been devastating for construction. We spotted a crane over ABQ's Winrock Center the other day and it was like seeing an extinct bird flying through the air. We eyed it with wonder, discovering that some long-delayed construction is finally getting underway at the mostly abandoned mall.

We could have more cranes dotting the landscape if the Guv and Legislature would come together in a coherent way and straighten out our capital outlay program by targeting for construction large highway and bridge projects. ABQ Public Schools will hold a bond election in February that if approved will mean construction hammers making some noise. Bully for that.

THE MINIMUM WAGE

And then there's the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot to raise the minimum wage in the city by a buck an hour. Judging by the reaction from the opposition you would think someone was trying to ban green chile:

A coalition of business and community groups opposed to raising the minimum wage in Albuquerque hopes to raise $500,000 to convince voters to reject the measure on Nov. 6. At least $100,000 has been pledged by the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said association CEO Carol Wight. Other coalition members have been asked to contribute $15,000 to the effort.

A recent poll done by Dem pollster Harry Pavlides shows support for the minimum wage starts out at 59% among the over 340 likely voters who were asked. But with the kind of cash that foes are going to throw at the measure you can bet that will crash quickly and we are in store for a much closer fight.

OVER RESERVED
 
Whether you support or oppose the increase in the minimum, we can all agree that more money needs to be flowing around New Mexico. That's why we saw Governor Martinez's boast that state reserves are at a record high as somewhat perverse.

Under her administration, she said, the state's budget reserve grew from 4 percent to more than 13 percent at the end of fiscal 2012. 

Sure, 4 percent is too low but we had to go there during the recession/Depression. But if 4 percent is too low, 13 percent is way too high when business is starved for customers and consumer for jobs.

How about filling some of the many vacant state government positions that are not set aside for political hacks? How about using some of that reserve to increase the state subsidy for child care so working mothers can get back to work? That would mean more child care workers and a direct injection of cash into this economy.

We're not  a politician so we can also recommend without fear of getting stoned that state employees making under $35,000 a year be given a pay raise as a means of putting this state reserve to work and moving some money into small business. And we're not talking about drunken sailor spending--just taking the reserve down from the lofty and unnecessary 13 percent leave to something around 8 or  9 percent. And we're surely not talking about a tax cut for those don't need it. Are you, Susana?

Try as we might to muster optimism about the state's long term economic future, we keep getting sand kicked in our face. Like this report from the AP that laments the lack of spin-off investment thus far for the NM Spaceport. Fingers are being pointed at the Legislature for its failure to pass a liability bill for the space manufacturing industry.

We would join in the finger-pointing but we've already pointed so many of our own digits elsewhere today that we've run out...

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