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Monday, December 10, 2012

Campos The Coalition Killer Or Not? He Wins Senate Dems Nod For Pro Tem Post, But State Awaits Final Decision, Plus: GOP Snubs Jay; Political Adviser At Center Of GOP Chair Battle; Billingsley Wins, And: Light Guv Sanchez Will Seek Re-election; Senate Seat Not In His Sights  

Senator Campos
Does the nomination of State Senator Pete Campos for President Pro Tem by the Senate Dem caucus Sunday spell the end of the conservative coalition of R's and D's that has made life more comfortable for Governor Martinez? The answer is no one knows, but the Dems may be inching toward enough unity that could--we emphasize "could"--finish it off.

Campos, in the Senate since '91, was one of four candidates nominated for the post at the Dem caucus. The ballot was secret so it is not known how many of the 25 Senate Dems voted for him. The position is decided by the entire 42 member Senate, so he needs 22 Dems to take the victory. To form a coalition all 17 R's would get behind a Dem contender and then try to pick off five Dems to join them.

We know Campos received at least 50% of the votes plus one at the Sunday caucus because that was the rule to win the nomination. Insiders game it out that he has about 17 firmly in his corner and now through negotiations and deals over committee assignments he will work to get that up to 22. The Pro Tem's influence comes from his power to determine committee assignments for Senators.

Worth noting: Senator Carlos Cisneros of Questa nominated Campos. He dropped his own bid to become Pro Tem.

Campos might have had an easier time of it if Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez was solidly in his corner, but high ranking Dem sources say Sanchez was pushing Senator Linda Lopez of ABQ for the key position. She, however, fell short (Sanchez was unopposed and was again chosen for the powerful majority leader slot).

Sanchez appears to believe that he would have had more influence with Lopez but if Campos wins with an all-Dem vote, Sanchez may have made the wrong bet. And the onus is still on Sanchez's shoulders to get a Dem Pro Tem--not one out of a coalition. He is the majority leader who beat back the Guv's political machine, scoring an 11 point re-election victory. And the state went deep blue in all major top of the ticket races. They want the coalition ended and they expect Sanchez to deliver.

In what could be a key development, GOP insiders are saying there does not seem to be much momentum for a coalition among the 17 R's. They can no longer band together behind Roswell Dem and Senate Pro Tem Tim Jennings since he was defeated in November by a Martinez backed candidate.

Las Cruces area State Senator Mary Kay Papen--who was one of the three candidates to lose to Campos Sunday--is the horse they have to ride. But the 80 year old lawmaker does not command the GOP Senators as Jennings did. Also, Campos has worked closely with Senate Minority Leader Stu Ingle. Ingle--who has taken his share of lumps from the Guv's political operatives--may not be in any mood to advance a coalition that would help her out. We'll see.

As for Campos, he has given mixed signals on whether he would seek to take the Pro Tem slot with a coalition. His backers say he is not in the coalition business, but this is high-level Senate power plays. Anything can happen. Everything must be watched.

The other candidate who ran for the Pro Tem nomination Sunday was 39 year old Howie Morales of Silver City. The full Senate votes on the post on opening day of the January legislative session. Stay tuned.

BERNALLIO POWER

How about that? Two young Dems from Bernalillo County won leadership positions at the Sunday Dem caucus. Second term Senator Tim Keller beat out fellow second termer John Sapien to become majority whip and Senator-elect Jacob Candelaria will be caucus chairman after winning out over ABQ Senator-elect Daniel Ivey Soto.

The two fresh faces in the leadership could serve to spruce up Leader Sanchez's look and it gives state Dems what they want--dyed-in-the-wool Dems to carry the cause against the R's.

Keller has worked well with Republicans, but progressives count him as firmly in their camp. Keller is well under 40 and Candelaria is 26. Keller is weighing a run for State Treasurer in '14.

The young blood is going to put a new face on Legislative politics. It is also a reminder of how important Bernalillo County is to the state party. It is delivering huge election margins for the Dems in all key races. It's hard to deny the party's center of gravity more force at the Roundhouse.

The conservative south could still rise, but at the Sunday Senate Dem caucus it looked as if a Progressive/Norteño coalition was taking hold, with Campos of Las Vegas being the man in the middle.

THE GOP SNUB

John Billingsley
We take you from the Holiday Inn Express in Belen where the Senate Dems met Sunday to the Hotel Albuquerque near Old Town where on Saturday members of the GOP State Central Committee gathered and gave a forceful snub to Jay McCleskey, the controversial and powerful political adviser to Governor Martinez.

The committee overwhelmingly elected Lincoln County GOP Chairman John Billingsley as the new state chairman, replacing Monty Newman of Hobbs. Billingsley has been highly critical of McCleksey for involving himself in Republican primaries and for using scorched earth tactics against the Republicans he opposes.

The most glaring examples of the intervention that has gotten Jay in hot water with his own party is the support of Angie Spears over Pat Woods in the June GOP primary for a Clovis area state Senate Seat. Woods handily won. There was also dissension in the ranks when McCleskey and Co. went after longtime conservative Dem Roswell State Senator Tim Jennings. He was replaced by GOP neophyte Cliff Pirtle.

That battle prompted an op-ed piece from former GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Jr. decrying McCleskey's tactics. Jay retorted that Harvey was just mad because he lacked "influence" with Martinez. That haymaker had the Jay foes running to their battle stations. (We don't know who Yates supported in the chair fight, but it hardly mattered. His voice regarding Jay was heard loudly and clearly).

Against that backdrop and much more, it was no surprise that Billingsley emerged the victor, with ABQ engineer John Rockwell finishing a distant second (Billingsley garnered 245, Rockwell 103 and libertarian/ Republicans Lance Klafeta received 6).

In victory, Billingsley was euphoric and toning down his anti-Jay image:

You’ve got to understand that Jay McCleskey is a very fantastic strategist/ He is a campaign guy who, in this state at least, is second to none. Consequently, you have to understand that his job is to elect a candidate. And we have a governor in Susana Martinez that is extremely well-liked, that has the backing of not only myself, but the entire leadership.

But there was this from Billingsley about McCleskey's power in running the government versus his power as a campaign consultant:

...McCleskey’s role in all of this is to get (Martinez) re-elected. It’s not to run the party, it’s not to run the administration--because after all, Susana Martinez is our governor, and she is doing an outstanding job.”

That's about as close as anyone in a high ranking position in this state has come to confirming on the record the extent of  McCleskey's power in Martinez's government--even if it has been a central tenet of New Mexican politics for two years as we have so often reported to you during that time.

POWERLESS PARTY?

Jay McCleskey
Martinez and McCleskey tried to keep their fingerprints from getting too overtly on the the chair race, but they were on there and they take a hit. McCleskey's close friend and Downs at ABQ General Manager Darren White spun it this way via Twitter:

The Guv supported no one, knowing the state party is an empty shell post-Citizens United. The party wont raise enough to be relevant.... 

The state GOP irrelevant to Susana? Hold on there, Darren. Remember, a candidate still has to be nominated by a political party to make it on the ballot--both at a pre-primary convention and at a primary. Super PACS still don't have that power. 

No, you can bet Susana cared and cared deeply. There was just little she could do because of the many rivals McCleskey has made within the party. Their relationship was outed at an official party function for all to see--and assess. The fact that Martinez--the titular head of the GOP--did not attend the convention revealed the rock and the hard place she has put herself in by going all in with McCleskey.

State Rep. Zach Cook from Billingsley's home county of Lincoln in the SE sent out an email that likened attacks on McCleskey to an attack on the Governor. But Cook's email fell flat. The party elite remains deeply supportive of Susana, but they are obviously quite tired of of McCleskey. Cook's email drew this response from a Republican foe of Jay's who uses the pseudonym "John Fremont."

So what is the practical impact of all of this? Billingsley will lead the GOP but McCleskey heads the well-funded Susana PAC and he just finished up running the multi-million dollar Reform NM Now PAC. That one has now been closed, but operating outside of the official confines of the party has never been easier. As White noted, Super PAC's like Reform NM are off the regulatory leash courtesy of the US Supreme Court. All that outside money threatens the ability to attract inside money represented by the state GOP.

Still, the big Billingsley win was a shot across the bow of the Governor, signifying that most of the GOP hierarchy wants McCleskey--aka "the Shadow Governor"--reined in.

THE FULL LIST

Here is the complete list of winners from the GOP confab: Chairman John Billingsley, 1st Vice Chair Rube Render; 2nd Vice Chair Rick Lopez; Secretary Orlando Baca; Treasurer Devon Day; Congressional District 1 Vice Charles Christmann; CD2 Vice Alice Eppers; CD3 Vice Frank Trambley.

Insiders say with the exception of Devon Day, these new officers are not in the McCleskey camp.

THE DEM REACTION

Democrats love nothing more than to see a good family fight in the GOP and they got that this weekend. NM Dem Party executive director Scott Forrester also sized up the new leadership of the GOP team and offered this zinger:

7 of the 8 of the new NM GOP leaders are men. So much for the consequences of 2012 election..

JOHN SANCHEZ NEWS

Lt. Governor John Sanchez didn't shock anyone when he told the GOP delegates Saturday that he would seek re-election in 2014. Still, there has been plenty of speculation that John might make another run at the US Senate, seeking the GOP nod for the right to run against Dem US Senator Tom Udall. Sanchez was a potentially viable candidate against Udall so his circle has to be pleased.

After his shaky challenge to Heather Wilson for the 2010 GOP Senate nod, John seems to have concluded that his best hope for a political future lies within the borders of New Mexico. 

His affable personality is one reason Sanchez could endure. We and other pundits bashed the daylights out of the Light Guv for his lightweight Senate campaign, but unlike some in the current GOP power circle, he refuses to take it personally. Instead, he marches forward looking for a new path to make it work. That's a formula for success in business and politics.

Sanchez did not overtly endorse Billingsley in his speech before the convention, but he emphasized supporting "county leaders." As we mentioned, Billingsley is chairman of the Lincoln County GOP.

John didn't have to say much more. He is deeply in the anti-McCleksey camp. His every move has been opposed by the Guv and Jay, including his decision to run for Light Guv in 2010.

The Susana camp is already talking up a possible primary opponent for Sanchez in the name of one Randy Baker of ABQ's South Valley. Baker and his wife operate a successful electrical contracting firm.

But Sanchez is nothing if not popular among Republicans. He has also had success in business--the roofing business--and will have the resources to fight off Baker and any other comers. We're guessing it will take a lot to take him out.

THE SPIN ZONE

It appears Gov. Martinez has been caught trying to spin a little too hard and in the process perhaps needlessly alarming the public. The news:

Don’t panic, New Mexico. Your state-issued driver’s license will still get you on an airplane and into federal buildings after Jan. 15, even if the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t extend the forthcoming deadline for the Real ID Act. For at least another two years, that is Local television news and talk radio reports during the past week have created something of a frenzy around the state, and even a run on appointments to get passports.

Martinez appeared to join that frenzy. From TV news:

Gov. Martinez told KOB she knows of no other additional form of identification other than a passport that may be sufficient to get through Transportation Security Administration security after the Real ID Act takes effect. If that is the case, this would apply at any airport in the country, not just the Sunport.

Martinez is using the Real ID controversy to advance her cause of repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. She will make a fourth attempt at repeal in the January session of the Legislature. 

And it appears the ABQ Police Department is also going over-the-top:

A spokesperson for the Albuquerque Police Department said that as a precaution any APD employee who does not have a passport will not be scheduled for out-of-state travel. Those employees will travel by car or train if necessary.

Doesn't APD Chief Schultz have enough problems without politicizing his department? Just asking.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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