Friday, November 23, 2012

While Susana Wages License Fight, Other States Move In Opposite Direction, Plus: State Of The State Senate: Can Dems Unify And Pick A Pro Tem? Power Play May Be Their Last Chance To Slow Gov; Sen. Morales Joins Others In The Fray 

Governor Martinez has dug in her heels for two years now over repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and she says in January she will again ask the New Mexico Legislature for a fourth time to do away with them. But while Susana remains all in over a repeal, other states are headed the other way. From Illinois:

Gov. Pat Quinn wants illegal immigrants to be able to get Illinois driver's licenses, saying it's a matter of public safety. He, Senate President John Cullerton, and other state and local leaders held a news conference to float the idea, saying Cullerton would introduce legislation pushing the controversial proposal within the next few weeks. An estimated 250,000 illegal immigrants drive on Illinois roads despite the fact they do not have a license, have not taken driver instruction or passed a driving test.

And in case you missed it, this from California recently:

Young undocumented immigrants will be able to receive California driver’s licenses under legislation Gov. Jerry Brown signed...As many as 350,000 undocumented immigrants in California may be eligible for the Obama administration program, which waives the threat of deportation for two years for those who have no criminal record....Young people would qualify if they are accepted by a federal program giving work permits to those who came to this country before they were 16 and are now 30 or younger.

The state House has passed a repeal of the licenses, but it got stuck in the Senate. Dem analysts are advising the Senate leadership to try to get the votes for a compromise repeal bill and send it to the Governor who would likely veto it. They say that could begin to put the Guv on the defensive instead of on offense in dealing with the controversial license question. Over 70% of the public supports a repeal.


Sen. Morales
Maybe the question to ask is who isn't running for Senate President Pro Tem? Newsman Milan Simonich has been bird dogging the various candidates or wanna be candidates for the potentially powerful post in the state Senate. He picked up on the latest candidacy that has also popped up in our email box--that of Senator Howie Morales of Silver City.

There are 25 Dem members of the 42 member state Senate and if this keeps up we're going to have half of them running for pro tem. Among others expressing an interest are Senators Papen, Campos, Cisneros and Lopez. Senator John Arthur Smith--who earlier said he might make a pro tem play--now says he won't.

What's interesting about the Morales bid is how he's ruling out forming a coalition with the 17 Senate Republicans in order to become pro tem. That's what we had with conservative Roswell Dem Senator Tim Jennings. But he was defeated in this month's election. Morales is saying he is not in favor of continuing the coalition--that he wants a Democrat to emerge from the caucus to take the leadership post whose power is derived from the ability to influence committee assignments. He declares: "We don’t want to dilute our vote to put ourselves in jeopardy.”

The "jeopardy" Senator Morales is talking about is really the whole ball game. If the Dems are unable to elect a Senate Pro Tem and the position is again selected with a coalition of R's, it will be to the great benefit of GOP Governor Martinez. And we mean great.

Only by taking total leadership control of the Senate in their party caucus can the majority Dems guarantee that they will send legislation to the Governor's desk to sign or veto. They desperately need to show a contrast with the popular Governor. If nothing significant gets up to the Fourth Floor for her to decide--as has been the case for the past two years--the Guv's popularity remains intact and her 2014 re-election bid is made easier. Her slogan could well be, "She may not have done anything for you but she hasn't done anything to hurt you." A Senate coalition of R's and conservative Dems would advance that narrative, making sure no controversial items are passed. Come '14, voters may say: "What's not to like?"

On the other hand hand, with the majority leader position firmly in the hands of Michael Sanchez and the pro tem also in the grip of a stalwart Dem--not a coalition Dem--they would be positioned to put the Governor on the spot.

One of the widely discussed ironies of the current political situation in Santa Fe is how Governor Martinez made the busting up of the coalition possible by successfully working to defeat coalition leader and Dem Pro Tem Jennings of Roswell. Now that he is gone, less conservative Dems have the hope of taking power. If they succeed, Martinez's head-scratching decision to go after Jennings will be talked about for decades.


The Senate Dems have a great opportunity to move in the direction of their electorate--away from the strict fiscal conservatism of the Pro Tem coalition and toward a more centrist Senate that reflects the outcome of the election in which Obama and other top of the ticket Dems swept the state.

Not that the coalition conservatives did bad. It was of its time, but now times have changed. The question is whether the Democratic Party--led by Senator Sanchez who is coming off a major re-election victory against the Governor--can move their caucus with the times and become the state's majority party not only in name, but also in legislative action.

If the 39 year old Morales, an educator with a Ph.D, fully embraces that reality, he may be the man of the hour despite the history of the pro tem going to a more established Senator. Morales was appointed to his Senate seat in 2007 by Governor Richardson when the venerable Senate President Pro Tem Ben Altimirano passed away.

We have not seen Morales act on the statewide stage of La Politica so questions remain about the intellectual firepower and media savvy he possesses. But his understanding of the situation earns him a place at the table. It will be up to his fellow Senators to determine if Morales is worthy of leading them or turn to one of the many others who would be pro tem.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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