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Monday, January 07, 2013

Susana Preps For '13 Session With Tax-Cutting Scissors; Can Dems Force Her Hand? Plus: Senate Leadership Battle Updated; May Be Pivotal Event Of Session, And: Dinelli First To Dive In '13 Mayoral Race 

The Roundhouse
Governor Martinez's centerpiece economic legislation for the upcoming 60 day legislative session appears to be a corporate income tax cut. (Surprise!) Even though there is very little evidence to back it up, tax-cutting is still seen as a panacea for the state's deep economic woes in the Santa Fe circles that dominate the economic agenda...which leads to this idea.

How about if the Democratic-controlled Legislature gives Susana her corporate tax break but makes up some lost revenue by increasing income taxes on those making over $300,000 or so a year? Would she sign such a bill or veto it?

Such a power play would be similar to how Obama outfoxed the Republicans in Washington when he demanded a tax hike on the wealthy and if he didn't get it, taxes on lower income citizens would have risen. The R's had no choice but to cave.

If the Dems didn't want to send the Guv a tax hike on the wealthy, how about they include in that corporate tax cut a measure to raise the state minimum wage of $7.50 an hour to 8 bucks an hour? A buck an hour increase in the minimum wage was recently approved by ABQ voters and even had a lot of Republican support. Would Susana sign or veto this one?

It is the forcing of these kind of tough decisions and contrast in philosophy that the Dems so deeply need if they are to change the political dynamic. Martinez wins high approval ratings in part because she has had not had to make any really tough decisions. Legislative gridlock has been her friend indeed.

And Susana probably won't have to make any of the difficult choices outlined above if the coalition of Republicans and conservative Dems continue to control the Senate President Pro Tem position. That's the guy (or gal) who essentially decides who chairs what committee.

LEADERSHIP BATTLE UPDATED

Sen. Campos
Sen. Papen
Senator Pete Campos--selected last month by the Senate Dem caucus as their choice--has made some headway in busting up the coalition and becoming a Pro Tem without making a deal with the R's. But so has Senator Mary Kay Papen who is the hope of the coalition.

Insiders say neither has the deal done. Campos needs 22 Democratic votes to win in the 42 member chamber. There are 25 Dems and 17 Republicans. They say Campos needs to pry loose a couple of undecided Dems to put him over the top when the full Senate votes at the Jan. 15 opening of the Legislature. Papen's magic number is five Dems--including herself-- to get to 22. She appears close, assuming all 17 R's back her.

This battle, which is as esoteric as algebra to the general public, is potentially one of the most pivotal events of the Martinez administration as well as recent state history.

If Campos wins and then removes conservative Democratic Senator John Arthur Smith as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and replaces him with Sen. Carlos Cisneros, the movement back to the philosophical center on economic policy could begin. That means you hear a whole lot more about the crisis in social conditions in this state and not just about tax cutting.

Smith has loudly pronounced that he may lose his chairmanship. It is a ploy to get the 17 Senate Republicans to form a coalition with conservative Las Cruces Dem Senator Papen and make her the coalition pro tem. She would preserve Smith's power.

The Pro Tem race is so close the wall-leaners are mulling over the likelihood of a 21-21 tie on the first round of voting.

Could GOP Lt. Governor John Sanchez--who presides over the Senate--break a tie vote? We seem to recall a Supreme Court decision that prevents the Lt. Governor from breaking ties on Senate organizational decisions. It is a separation of powers matter. If he could, Sanchez would no doubt cast his vote with Papen giving the R's and the administration a major victory.

And if the Pro Tem vote ends in a tie and Sanchez can't vote, what then? Aah, let the fun begin.

And what if not everyone votes? We've seen that a number of times over the decades in these past power struggles. That changes the math big time, especially if one of the 17 R's were among them.

R's care about the Pro Tem position, but they care even more about Smith remaining as chairman of finance. Campos is saying Smith can stay on the committee, but not committing to making him chair.

How could he say anything different? If the new Pro Tem did not remove Smith, most of the reason for breaking the back of the coalition would be lost.

SANCHEZ QUESTIONED

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez did not help the Campos cause when before the holidays he praised Smith's performance as finance chair and said he would like to see him stay in the position.

"Say what, Michael?" was the general reaction from Dems reading the election results much differently than their leader.

Dem Senator George Munoz is openly supporting Papen and with apparently no consequences threatened by his leader. And new Senator Clemente Sanchez of Grants is seen leaning towards the Papen corner.

Clemente told me in a weekend phone interview that he wants to see Senator Smith stay on as chairman of finance. With Campos as Pro Tem, that is much less likely.

The fact that the coalition is still very much alive raises more questions about Sanchez's leadership from anti-coalition Dems inside and outside the Senate. They want some kind of party discipline to stop the bleeding of members who won't cut a deal. They also wonder aloud about Sanchez's commitment to busting the coalition.

Dem Senator John Sapien of Bernalillo is another question mark. Will he put the coalition over the top? Dems in his district are watching with concern. With Smith, Munoz and Clemente Sanchez on her side, Sapien could tip the scales and give Papen the win.

If Campos fails to bust the coalition, or even if it does but is forced to keep Smith as finance chair, Dems across the state (and nation) will look to blame Leader Sanchez. That's why a number of Senate Dems are hoping that the often tense relationship between Campos and Sanchez can be patched up. They want that move to the center signaled by New Mexico voters in the November election carried out not only in Washington but in ol' Santa Fe...

CAMPOS AND COMPROMISE

Sure, the Guv in her public appearances seems a bit more open to compromise as she approaches her 2014 re-election, but we don't expect much. For example, on her banner political wedge issue of repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, Senator Campos recently proposed a compromise deal. It was shot down by the administration faster than Chuck Franco nailing a deer. The news:

...(Campos is) working on a bill to establish two different types of driver's licenses...One would...meet the stricter requirements of the federal REAL ID Act. The second would have fewer requirements and still go to illegal immigrants...According to Campos both licenses will help assure New Mexico drivers are properly licensed and insured. But the governor's administration, which has been fighting against driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, still has issues with the senator's proposal. Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, says the proposal fails to address the issue of fraud...

So much for compromise. The Guv's political advisers tried to use the driver's license repeal in the recent legislative election, but too little effect. Still, the administration continues to believe that no solution is a great issue to hammer away at in '14. They are probably right about that, but they could get a deal before they had their cornflakes tomorrow morning,

You mean political considerations are blocking us from beginning to solve the license problem? The shock of it all!

FRANCO FILE

That reference we made above to Chuck Franco, hubby of Susana, was based on this happening related to what has fondly become known as the Down and Dirty Downs Deal." To the news:
  
The Department of Public Safety says it will release work and vacation schedules of officers who at taxpayer expense accompanied Gov. Susana Martinez's husband on an out-of-state trip.

 ...The records will be released as directed by Attorney General Gary King, Two state police officers accompanied Martinez's husband, Chuck Franco, on the 2011 hunting trip to Louisiana. The documents had been requested under the Inspection of Public Records Act by the executive director of Independent Source PAC, a union-funded political group that has been sharply critical of the Martinez administration. The department previously refused to release the records, saying protection of the governor and her family allowed the records to be withheld. However, King said a state Supreme Court in June no longer allows records to be withheld when the government decides disclosure isn't in the public interest. 

The Downs angle comes in because the trip occurred during the time when a a 25 year racino contractor was under considerations and several of the Downs' owners live in Louisiana. 

As for the political angle, could Attorney General King, an announced candidate for the '14 Dem Guv nomination, be stepping it up when it comes to chasing Susana? Well, with his candidacy widely dismissed by insiders as a fool's errand, he has nothing to lose. What he does have which is so troubling to the Fourth Floor is the time and power to plant numerous thorns in the Guv's side. Looks as though Franco and King have something in common--they both like to hunt.

DINELLI DIVES IN

Could Pete Dinelli be the sole October election opponent of ABQ GOP Mayor RJ Berry? Such was the talk Sunday as the veteran Democratic attorney and former Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney became the first official candidate in the 2013 mayoral race. That chatter arises because none of the other potential candidates out there seems very interested and it is very hard to qualify for the public financing you need to run.

In 2009 we had three candidates end up on the ballot. We don't see more than that this time and Berry and Dinelli would make two. Dinelli has some union help and should have the manpower to get the necessary grass-roots support to quality for the ballot. Meanwhile, Berry has not announced a re-election bid, but appears headed that way.

Old timers will remember that Pete ran for mayor back in 1989, after completing a four year term on the council. Educator Louis Saavedra won the race that year, beating then City Councilor Pat Baca in a run-off.

As for what Dinelli, 60, a former city councilor in the 80's and the Public Safety Director under Mayor Marty Chavez had to say at his announcement, here's a look:

Albuquerque's Police and Fire Departments are both in a complete staffing meltdown, and their response times are up. During a 24 month period...Albuquerque had 27 police officer involved shootings with 17 fatalities. People are afraid to interact with police officers. When I left City Hall, APD was one of the most respected...Not anymore. APD is now being investigated by the US Department of Justice for excessive use of force...Once elected, I intend to replace top management and reorganize both Police and Fire Departments.

Albuquerque has had a zero job growth rate for the last three years...with 12% unemployment among Hispanics. For three years, the Berry Administration has failed...to attract new businesses and jobs. Albuquerque keeps losing jobs. I am committed to implementing a comprehensive and aggressive economic development plan...

The Berry administration has engaged in a policy of settling police misconduct cases and frivolous lawsuits against the City for millions of dollars of taxpayer money without providing a competent and adequate defense. Under Mayor Berry, the City has become an easy mark with an open checkbook for frivolous lawsuits...I intend to stop the practice of settling frivolous lawsuits and demand the City Attorney's office to aggressively defend the City...

Those are some real meat and potatoes issues Berry has to worry about, even with his high approval ratings.

As for Dinelli, he is seen as articulate and aggressive, but insiders wonder if he will have the likability with the public that is so important in a race against Berry.

Will Berry get a challenge from a fellow Republican that could crack this race open for the Dems? A couple are threatening. One--Pastor Steve Smotherman--has the potential to hurt Berry within the GOP. But again, talking it up and qualifying for the ballot are as different as night and day.

Another note on Dinelli, a native of ABQ. He says in his bio that he is half Hispanic and half Italian.
His mother, Rose Freques Dinelli, was originally from Chacon in Mora County,

SHIRLEY LESLIE

Was there a major Republican candidate in New Mexico over the past 40 years or more who did not make a stop at the doorstep of Shirley Leslie? When they got there they almost always found generous financial support and sound advice. The former NM GOP National Committeewoman and successful businesswoman was a mainstay on the state GOP scene, befriending and aiding party stars like Pete Domenici, Manuel Lujan and Garrey Carruthers. She died last week at 82 at her ABQ home. State GOP Chairman John Billingsley said:

Shirley generously and tirelessly served and supported the Republican Party of New Mexico and was truly a benefit to our state and to Bernalillo County. She was an inspiration and a true leader. Her legacy of leadership will continue to live on, and we know that she will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing her.

The full obit of Leslie's life can be found here.
 

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013
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