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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Advantage Susana: Democrats Forced To Fold Tent In Key Leadership Battle; A Blow To Leader Sanchez, A Boost To The Guv; Our Coverage And Analysis Are All Here 

Sen. Sanchez (Matt Grubs)
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez showed up for the opening day of the Legislature sporting a haircut that left him nearly bald. He might have opted for also showing up without clothes. By the end of the day he and the majority Democrats had been stripped bare and left vulnerable to a Republican Governor who now appears better positioned for this 60 day session as well as re-election next year.

Change in Santa Fe? A vigorous debate of contrasting views over the state's increasingly forlorn economic outlook? Fuggedaboutit! But if there is any change in Santa Fe in the next 59 days we feel comfortable predicting that after yesterday's Dem debacle, it will be change in favor of Governor Martinez, not the Democrats.

In other words, don't expect Martinez to be put on the spot by having legislation land on her desk that tilts Democratic.

Gridlock is the best the Dems are going to get now. That doesn't seem to hurt Susana, and if she takes full advantage of the Senate chaos that occured on opening day, she could get a few presents.

If Susana takes her eye off the ball her back-up quarterback--Senator John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith--will still be atop the heap of the Senate Finance Committee, watching with eagle eyes for anything that might offend her.

Leader Sanchez unloaded on the Governor in his response to her state-of-the-state, but verbal attacks and delivering the votes to act on those attacks are two separate matters. Simply put, as a result of the pro tem battle detailed below, we know Sanchez and the mainline Dems do not have the votes. Neither does the Guv. But that favors her.

DIARY OF A POWER PLAY

Look at this great picture of Senate president pro tem contenders Pete Campos and Mary Kay Papen. It was taken by an Alligator just moments after Campos agreed to withdraw from the battle. A poignant human moment in the challenging game of La Politica...Now to the story....

The day started ominously enough for the Dems, when the Roundhouse Internet connection went dark. That spared the Dems the embarrassment of having their first choice for Senate president pro tem seen publicly surrender to the Republicans and conservative Dems.

And surrender Pete Campos did.

After a months-long struggle in which he worked feverishly to gather the support of 22 of the Senate's 25 Democrats to win a majority of the 42 member Senate, he folded his hand and personally nominated his rival for Senate pro tem--Dona Ana County Senator May Kay Papen. She then won by acclamation. Not even a peep of protest. Papen was poised to win the fight with all 17 R's backing her and at least five Dems, including herself.

Insiders say Campos agreed to get out in the name of "unity" after a meeting with Leader Sanchez. Sanchez told TV news he wanted to avoid what he saw as an unnecessary fight. 

The AP wrap on the pro tem vote is here.

What about discipline in the Dem Party? First, in threatening consequences for those who strayed from Campos--the caucus choice--and second--on forcing a roll call vote where the wayward Dems could be held accountable by the Democratic donor base and others? You mean, like a real political party?

Papen needed five Dems. She had her own plus that of Senators Smith and Munoz. Suspect Dems who could put her over the top were John Sapien, Clemente Sanchez and Joe Cervantes. But Sanchez protected them by not forcing a roll call. They have deniability. Whether it is plausible or not is another story.

SAPIEN AND SANCHEZ

Last night the majority leader, speaking at the annual Dem legislative dinner in Santa Fe, knocked down a report in this blog that Sapien of Bernalillo might consider switching parties in order to get the chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee from Papen. He called Sapien a "true blue" Democrat, but applause in the room, we are told, was tepid.  For his part, Sapien put this note out on his Twitter account:

Touched by the kind words of majority leader and yes do stand with you I was born a democrat and will die a democrat...

Will Sapien get the chairmanship from Papen? Committee assignments will be announced Thursday.

And if Sapien is such a die-hard Democrat, why would he not commit to supporting Campos for pro tem--the choice of the Senate Democratic caucus--when Campos asked him for his support?

A FUNCTIONAL COALITION

While Mary Kay's win officially ends the "coalition" of Senate R's and conservative Dems that held the pro tem position with Tim Jennings, no one is kidding themselves. The unanimous election of Papen was an even bigger win for the Guv and the southern conservatives. This is what we call a "functional coalition."

She may not be down-the-line hard-core conservative, but she has been very warm with the Guv who also hails from Dona Ana. If you are on the Fourth Floor with Susana, what's not to like?

It was a sound defeat as well as a face-saving move for Leader Sanchez. As we said, he avoided a roll call vote where Senate Dems who voted for a coalition led by Papen would be targeted by the Democratic base. But by letting everyone off the hook he also gave up the fight for control of the agenda. Let Susana have it, he seemed to be saying. Let her own the terrible economy and all that goes with it because we just don't have the intestinal fortitude to give her a real fight. Nor do we really have anyone to take her on in 2014.

This was somewhat surprising and revealing as Sanchez emerged victorious against the Guv and her political adviser Jay McCleskey when they targeted him for defeat in November. He beat them by 10 points and the political world seemed to be his oyster. He would, his Dem brethren predicted, be ready to consolidate power by engineering the pro tem pick. But he never did.

Sanchez opted for the known against the unknown. Power that would have been slurped up by past Senate players like Manny Aragon or Aubrey Dunn this time was left floating in the bowl.

Sanchez's tenure as majority leader is assured for now, but the rumblings that it's time for a new face will start in the halls where "progressives" hang their hats and then slowly spread like a cancer to the rest of the party. In this game, when you're not eating someone, they're eating you.

As for those Dems who refused to budge and push Campos over the top, veteran politico Greg Payne, quipped:

Senate Democrats are like the nobles of Scotland from Braveheart--selling out for land and titles. Or, in this case, committee assignments. 

MICHAEL'S MALAISE

Sanchez was out maneuvered from the beginning. That the choice of the Democratic caucus had to run through the Roundhouse with his tail between his legs will long be remembered as the low point of his tenure--a black mark on the Dems who on Election Night swept the state with powerful victories.

He is still the leader and with the power to control the flow of legislation, but really it has become the power to stop legislation--not advance it. That's where the Dems have been stuck with this Guv, and that's where they will stay.

Sanchez never did embrace the Campos candidacy and it faltered from the start. Mary Kay had the support of Smith, the always on message Senate Republicans and the Governor. As Payne indicated that's a battle for the brave of heart--not the half-hearted.

COMMENT ROW

To the Alligators now for further comment on the pro tem result:

Unlike Jennings who held the pro tem position with a coalition of Republicans and conservative Dems, Mary Kay will be reluctant to publicly disagree with the Governor--despite the official party propaganda that she will stand with Sanchez in opposition to the "executive's aggressive policies."

THE GUV

The state is rotting economically in a number of ways, but no one in Santa Fe is going to take ownership of it. Both Dems and R's downplay the problem, so they can then take baby steps in addressing it. Thus Governor Martinez with her state-of-the-state message with proposals so minor that you might think she was talking about Tucumcari, not an entire state that ranks dead last in job creation, poverty and all the other stuff that makes you want to give up your breakfast.

(Full video of speech is here. The text of the speech is here. The AP wrap on the speech is here.)

But Susana is doing what both Dems and Republicans have been doing here for decades--kicking the rotting can down the road. But now the stench is growing, as headlines shout of thousands applying for 200 job openings or New Mexico ranking in the top tier of states that people are moving away from.

As is her habit, Susana put plenty of smiles and little children before the TV cameras as she addressed the 112 lawmakers. The TV audience probably gobbled it up, but inside the hall applause was subdued--no doubt the residue of the toxic political campaign in which she personally targeted multiple legislators.

Martinez continues to blame Washington for the state's job crisis and specifically the loss of government jobs. But other states around us have lost government jobs,  but now are expanding.

We all know the problems are much deeper, but who wants to hear it? The Governor's narrative--or alternate reality if you will--sees New Mexico as falling a little behind, not lagging the entire nation even more than it traditionally has.

The Governor's message was shrewdly crafted and generally pleasing to watch. Everyone is tired of mean Republicans. Her public demeanor does not reveal the harsh prosecutorial streak she harbors. At least it did not on Tuesday.

While Michael Sanchez was telling the state to look away, Susana was telling them to look at and blame Washington. Does anyone have some mirrors? Because the politicos in Santa Fe might want to look at one.

SOFTER RHETORIC

Here's another example of the softer GOP rhetoric in light of the election results. It's from House Minority Whip Nate Gentry:

I am very pleased with the Governor's initiatives to make New Mexico more competitive economically and reform our troubled education system. We are looking forward to engaging in a positive dialogue with the majority to create the best legislative environment possible and send reform-minded legislation to the Governor for her signature.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Longtime House Clerk Stephen Arias was among those caught by the cameras wiping a tear from his eye as State Rep. Ken Martinez took the helm as Speaker of House, replacing Ben Lujan who died in December. Martinez's father was speaker back in the 70's and Arias was even around then. That's a lot of years and a lot of emotion...We're told the gavel given to Speaker Martinez to preside over the House was bought for him by the late Speaker Lujan...You can see the new Speaker's maiden address to the House here.

That near bald pate of Leader Sanchez was due to a pledge he had given to shave his head in support of friends who were undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. His hair will grow back. We can't say the same yet for his political muscle. 

 This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013
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