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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Senate Pro Tem Primer: What Is It & Why It Matters; Dyson Games The Action, Plus: Driver's Licenses On Tap Yet Again, But It's Still The Jobs; How The Blog Sees It 

Senators Jennings & Sanchez
Ask most people what a Pro Tem is and they might say a temporary employee of some kind, but in the lexicon of La Politica the phrase is loaded with history, power and promise. Democratic State Senator Tim Jennings of Roswell will relinquish the title of Senate President Pro Tem when the next legislative session convenes in January, the result of his failed re-election bid, and that has set off a scramble over who will take his place.

The most important point to take away from the Nov. 6 election when it comes to the Legislature is the power spurt it bestowed on Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. By being directly attacked by the acolytes of the Governor and withstanding their barrage of negative campaigning, the Belen Democrat emerged as the giant killer. As Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino put it: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

The multi-million dollar campaign run against the Senate and House Dems by the Guv's political adviser has served to unite the Senate behind Sanchez's leadership. If he wants to enhance that power--and who would not--he will look to have the Senate Dem caucus choose a Pro Tem who can work with him and will listen to him. The caucus will ultimately decide how much power they will let Sanchez have.

It is the majority leader who decides what legislation will be considered in the 42 member Senate. The Pro Tem has the power to decide what committees a Senator sits on. With control of the flow of legislation and committee chairman friendly to him, Sanchez could become a Senate leader rivaling the influence that Senator Manny Aragon wielded in the body.

While the Senate has 25 Dems, it still has 17 Republicans. If they can get a handful of Dems to come with them on some issues they could split the Dems. Sanchez still has a lot of work to do in presenting a unified Democratic message to the state.

THE CONTENDERS

Senators Pete Campos of Las Vegas,  Linda Lopez of ABQ and Carlos Cisneros of Taos County are all looking at the Pro Tem position. But there's a problem for the Dems. The coalition could be back under the banner of none other than Senator John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith. He is sounding more and more like a hopeful coalition leader.  Only a handful of Dem votes combining with all the Republicans would be needed to give the Pro Tem job to Smith. That coalition could then form to block any legislation that is not to the conservatives liking--just as it did when Senator Jennings led the same coalition. It would be good news for Governor Martinez, but dreadful for the state Democratic Party which has been unable to clearly define itself to state voters.

If Leader Sanchez is outmaneuvered or acquiesces to a conservative coalition for the Pro Tem post, he is going to lose momentum from the election which show a state whose major population centers are growing increasingly blue. But if the Dems can't start sending a blue agenda to the Guv for her to sign or veto she will continue to coast along. Until the Democratic Party provides a plausible contrast with Martinez and forces her to make decisions that burn political capital, they are peddling a bicycle that stays stationary.

There is still hope among nonconservative Dems that Smith could veer a bit to the center as a result of the beating he saw the Governor administer to his old friend Jennings and others. We'll have to wait and see.

Cisneros has deep support among the state's progressives, Lopez is an experienced female Hispanic who matches up well against Governor Martinez. Campos, a professional educator, could be a consensus candidate--able to work easily with both sides of the aisle while retaining allegiance to Sanchez.

And before we forget. There's also an opening for Senate Majority Whip now that Mary Jane Garcia has been defeated. Lopez might be in the running for that if she can't do Pro Tem and still wants in the leadership circle.

DYSON DICES PRO TEM

Monahan & Dyson
Veteran KOB-TV newsman Stuart Dyson worked for the State Senate leadership for a number of years and comes with this primer on Senate politics and the Pro Tem:

Joe, The Pro Tem is a powerful position. He or she runs the Committees Committee which controls other committee chairmanships and the membership of each committee. In the Legislature this is the whole ball game. Issues gain momentum or fizzle depending on committee votes--and the chairmen of those committees frequently determine whether a bill lives or dies.

The President Pro Tem does not have the power of the Speaker of the House who controls the flow of legislation but he does wield enormous power in a remote and somewhat mysterious way because of this control over the committee hierarchy. The Senate is designed to thwart the ambition of any leader who would attempt total control.

Manny Aragon had a lot to do with strengthening the function of the Pro Tem and Senator Richard Romero inherited it and modified it in the 2001 coalition of D's and R's that gave Manny the boot. The reign of  Pro Tem Ben Altamirano may have been a return to the older style, but anybody who ever underestimated Ben's abilities must surely have paid a dear price for that mistake.

Tim Jennings put together another Dem and R coalition like the one that backed Romero, only with more support from fellow moderate Democrats. He ran the Senate in a fair and collegial manner during some difficult times. Tim had been in the doghouse before--banished as Majority Leader in a treacherous backroom deal that Senator Aragon cooked up after Romero booted him out of the Pro Tem job. Tim also stood up courageously to what he considered excessive power plays by Gov. Bill Richardson. The payback from his own party was bitter but Tim endured it and came back to run the Senate...

He will tower as a giant in the history of our Legislature, granted it's a history only a few of us really know or care about.

Well done, Stu. You pretty much nailed it--except the part about only a few caring. There are people across the state who deeply care and are glad to have that insider take on what makes our State Senate tick.

DRIVER'S LICENSES--FOREVER!

How about the fourth time being the charm? Come January the Guv will again ask that the Legislature repeal the law allowing undocumented immigrants to get a state driver's license. It will have no problem in the House. But what about the Senate where it's been repeatedly rejected? The news:

The Senate rejected the governor's measure in 2011 on a 24-17 vote. Only two Democrats joined Republicans in voting to scrap the current license policy. One Democratic senator didn't vote but likely would have opposed the governor's proposal. In contrast to last year, Martinez could gain four votes in the Senate because of newly elected members. If there were a 21-21 tie vote in the Senate, Republican Lt. Gov. John Sanchez could cast the deciding vote.

That sounds good for the Guv, but the bill has to get to the floor for a vote. And that's decided by her arch-enemy Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Maybe the lawmakers finally tire of the battle and send her the repeal. Or maybe they send her a compromise bill and let her veto it. Or maybe it is given a quiet funeral and never brought to the Senate floor.

The license issue has been this Governor's top agenda item, despite an economy that has continued to head south on her watch. Over 70% of the public supports repeal, but that doesn't mean they share the Governor's apparent opinion that it is the most important issue facing the state.

One way or another, it would be good to have this issue off the table so we could move on to more important topics. But would we? The Guv's political team came with TV spots in the November election that accused Senate leaders of being soft on child killers. Not exactly a jobs or education message.

The administration is run as a permanent political campaign because its most influential advisers are political consultants. That's good for getting elected, but not good for governing. But you already knew that...

HITTING THE ROAD

Our impression is that the Governor is enamored with her standing as the nation's first female Hispanic governor and that she is going to hit the road a lot in the months ahead, spurred on by her political adviser Jay McCleskey. The news:

Switching from campaign mode to gubernatorial affairs, Gov. Susana Martinez traveled to Nevada to take part in the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference. The three-day conference begins today. Martinez, who serves on the RGA’s executive committee along with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others, is scheduled to stay in Las Vegas until Saturday.Her travel costs will be covered by the Republican Governors Association, Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey said.

And why not. It's much more pleasent to go where folks praise you than to deal with the knotty problem of the state Senate. Like we said, look for a busy out-of-state travel schedule in the year ahead.

GETTING PROMOTED

And then there's the "social promotion" bill. The Guv will take a fourth bite out of the apple on that one as well. But it already appears headed to the cemetery:

State Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, says Martinez's state-mandated retention plan was a copycat of a failed system in Florida. A former teacher, Stewart, right, said legislators in January had a bill on reading that was mostly good. It would have added money and staff to help kids from pre-kindergarten through third grade become good readers. The snag was the provision the governor wanted to force retentions, leaving parents without a say-so.

And we're going to have 60 days of this come January? Teacher, can we be excused?

STILL THE ECONOMY

So we argue over driver's licenses and social promotion in the face of the ongoing economic carnage. Here's the the latest:

On Numbers analyzed employment trends in all 102 metros with populations above 500,000. Eighty-five lost jobs between September 2007 and the same month this year, while only 17 posted increases. The five-year span began just before the recession’s arrival in December 2007. The study period ended in September 2012...The Albuquerque metro area lost 28,200 private-sector jobs during the period, or 8.9 percent. The job loss ranks the area 75th-worst and the percentage loss 91st-worst out of the 102 metros analyzed. The Albuquerque metro area had 316,800 private-sector jobs when the recession began and had 288,600 in September 2012.

Many of those private jobs are actually contractors with federal government contracts that have disappeared. The very backbone of this state's economy--government employment--is being whittled away. The conservative think tanks and media say its fine--the jobs can be replaced by a vibrant private sector. But they aren't.

Economic stagnation has become the expected here. There is little fight in the business, political or media establishments. Fighting to retain government jobs and funding is somehow viewed as moral turpitude, but what is truly amoral is the ease at which this state is giving up.

It is a pipe dream to believe that we are is going to attract a large swath of high-paying private sector jobs to replace those being lost in the government sector without massive investment in our disadvantaged population--perhaps as much as half our population. Until then, you get phone center jobs.

The socio-economic crisis that we face--and have repeatedly blogged about--is not attractive to major companies or to small businesses that need an educated work force.

It would be wonderful if cutting taxes was akin to waving a magic wand. Cut the taxes in half and suddenly thousands of jobs appear. That sophomoric view of economic development makes for a good sound bite, but little else.

The jobs will come when the state's society is seen as more livable. That means better schools, a better educated work force, less poverty, less crime, less drug addiction, less teen pregnancy, less suicide and less domestic violence.

With good-paying jobs evaporating everywhere because of the global economic slowdown, our job is made doubly difficult by our human capital crisis. We are going to have to double-down in our efforts to resolve it or we will continue to languish at the bottom of the economic barrel.

ABOUT BOB SCHWARTZ

Readers react to the news of well-known ABQ District Court Judge Bob Schwartz of which we blogged Tuesday:

Joe, Thanks for, "He served his community effectively and with distinction and diligence." Truly, well stated enough for an epitaph. Would that other jurists possessed his wit, compassion and understanding of the law's tenets.  Maybe we'll have a statue of Bob in a roundabout at the corner of Lomas and Fourth streets. Thanks again for the mention about Bob Schwartz.  He'll be missed more than most.

And another:

Two Bob Schwartz quotes, both uttered on the Bernalillo Courthouse steps to the media while he was District Attorney, following a jury trial and a sentencing:

"Today justice was served--with an apple in its mouth..."


"We’ve checked an actuarial table, and the defendant's sentence is just about right..."


I’m going to miss him.


Thanks for the memories.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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