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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dateline Santa Fe: Kenny The Compromiser; He Says It's The Way To Go But Critics Say His Brand Could Give The Farm Away To Susana, Also: Hanna On The Hot Seat 

Speaker Martinez
New Mexico House Speaker Ken Martinez keeps saying "compromise is not a dirty word," but is Martinez's version of compromise actually capitulation to the Republican Governor? And if so, what are the consequences going forward? That's the question being asked with increasing regularity as the 60 day legislative session nears its final and most frenetic phase.

Analysts, Wall-Leaners and Alligators we ask agree that one thing is certain--Speaker Martinez's embrace of the compromise paradigm is benefiting Governor Martinez. It is not so clear that is benefiting the Democrats led by Ken Martinez and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Governor Martinez is truly in need of compromise deals after two years of intransigence that has started to wear thin as she approaches her 2014 re-election. She also needs to continue to separate herself from a national Republican brand that has become toxic to mainstream voters.

We and others noted her failure to compromise in her first two years and urged her to do so. But now she is dictating the compromise in what appears to be a faux move to the center.

Veteran legislative watchers like reporter Sherry Robinson think those of us who hold that view are just spoiling for a fight. No, we are spoiling for a substantive debate and substantive compromise legislation as the state sinks even further into economic and social decay, not faux compromises (driver's licenses anyone?) on matters of limited concern that make politicians look good but little else.

Unfortunately, our old friend Sherry and her chief legislative ally--Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen--and too many others lounging in the Roundhouse are locked into a world view that we see as extinct as the Neanderthal. The state is no longer simply afflicted with serious and ongoing social and economic problems. It is spiraling downward. Let Sherry and the ABQ Journal tell us it isn't so. For us, it is clear as the New Mexican sky. New thinking is needed. Now.

SPEAKER POLITICS

Insiders believe Speaker Martinez is being influenced by polling that shows voters want compromise and collaboration. That's true when it comes to Washington, but New Mexico is not a microcosm of the nation. Dems here control both houses of the Legislature--although they are weakened by the conservative coalition in the Senate led nominally by Senator Papen with the real power vested in Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith.

Critics of Speaker Martinez's compromise campaign warn that the failure of Santa Fe Democrats to flex their muscle and demand compromise from the Governor on their terms could set her up for a runaway 2014 election victory. They further warn that such a big win could give her coattails and endanger the slim majority the Dems enjoy in the House (38 to 32).

Martinez, his pollsters and advisers seem to see it differently--that the 2010 off-year turnout model is what they are stuck with and pursuing a more aggressive agenda would set them up for failure in key swing state House districts.

But other observers disagree. They say Dem nominee Diane Denish lost the Guv's race in 2010 in part because she failed to contrast herself sufficiently with the Republicans. They say the Democratic base--especially in ABQ--abandoned her. They also say that the Dems need to pull back from the unusual 2010 election model in which R's showed aberrational strength--that they need to increase their voter turnout program and give Democrats who are not voting something to vote for. Examples? Obama's two big wins here and Martin Heinrich's 2010 re-election win for the ABQ House seat when he refused to crack and back away from his core beliefs. (And where is Heinrich today? In the US Senate).

ACTION PLAN

Specifically, they are recommending that Speaker Martinez and Majority Leader Michael Sanchez work to put an increase in the statewide minimum wage on the Governor's desk. She would very likely veto it but it would give the Dems a rallying cry to motivate their base voters in 2014. Witness the trouble ABQ GOP Mayor Berry has gotten into this week with this issue. When just a bit of heat was put on him to reverse his foot-dragging on enforcing a minimum wage hike, he folded like a bad tent. Is that a sign that the sky high popularity ratings of the Mayor and Governor are up there because they have not been sufficiently challenged by the opposition and when they are, their support could crumble quickly?

The Democrats could also push through a constitutional amendment that would fund very early childhood programs from the state's nearly $12 billion permanent fund. It would not require the Guv's signature but would go directly to the voters in 2014, boosting turnout among Democratic voters, especially women. And if it passed it could very well be the start to turning around the dismal rankings our state faces across-the-board.

These are not wild-eyed "radical" or "far left" ideas that will turn off voters, but are mainstream and serious proposals that serve as a contrast of ideas and give voters a choice.

We've never styled ourselves as a "liberal" or "progressive." We move with the times. When Santa Fe was spending huge surpluses like drunken sailors and passing out rebate checks, we called them out for it. Today--as we see it--the state faces the need for a major investment in its human capital. That is not risk free. But if we can do it for Eclipse Aviation and Schott Solar (and lose millions) it's our view we can do it for our own flesh and blood.

There's another possibility here. The Dems pass those two items which both poll well with the public--the hike in the minimum wage and the constitutional amendment--and the Governor starts talking about compromising rather than face the tough decision of outright rejecting them. That would be compromise instituted by the majority party that controls both Houses of the Legislature--not what we have seen so far which is Speaker Martinez compromising mostly on items that the Republican Governor chooses to compromise on. It would, in effect, make him (and Sanchez) equally powerful political figures. And again, it would give the Dems something to vote for.

Speaker Martinez and his circle may also be cowed by the Governor's continuing high popularity rankings and may be writing off the 2014 Guv race. But those ratings may be of the glass jaw variety--one sharp blow and they begin to shatter. But the Democratic leadership in Santa Fe has been unwilling or unable to land that blow and find out.

Veteran Dem analyst and pollster Harry Pavlides sums it up this way:

What they are doing is sitting on their hands and compromising with this Governor on her terms and she is going to be set up to win going away in 2014. Will she then pull Republican legislative candidates in with her, endangering Speaker Martinez's effective control of the House?  

HANNA ON HOT SEAT

The action in Santa Fe this session has been so paltry that it reminds us of what comedian George Burns once said: "I spent a year in that town one Sunday." But now we've got some action that is sure to bump those in the cellar legislative ratings.

Senate Dems, perhaps sensing some of what we blogged above about their session thus far, will call Education Secretary Designee Hanna Skandera before the Senate Rules Committee Friday for a long delayed confirmation hearing.

Hanna's middle name has been "Designee" since she was first named to her post when Susana took over in 2011. She has served without confirmation, but not without plenty of controversy. That's what is going to make the hearing must see TV for the insiders--or must see webstream-- as the case may be.

Not that Hanna, 39, has much to worry about when it comes to cashing a regular paycheck. If the Senate were to vote down her nomination, the Guv would probably just reappoint her and we'd start all over again.

From what we've seen Hanna will be more than capable of handling herself. She has won a number of kudos for being an agent of change--even if that change is hyper-controversial.

The hearing is the kind of debate the state needs to contrast the education views of the two major parties. It may be entertaining, but it's also darn important.

(Have some advice for Hanna for her big day Friday. You can find her on Twitter.)

BERRY VS. BENTON

Benton
Speaking of the wrangling over the ABQ minimum wage, even though Mayor Berry has had his wings clipped some, Dem City Councilor Ike Benton says he needs to be pushed some more to insure the measure taking hourly pay to $8.50 a hour is tightly enforced:

Though just prior to our Tuesday press conference on the minimum wage the Mayor and City Attorney Tourek slightly changed their tune, they still deny that they have a responsibility to enforce it, alleging a technical defect in its wording.  In fact, the ordinance specifically gives the City Attorney all necessary authority. Further, our City Charter requires the Mayor (the Executive) to “faithfully execute and comply with all laws” of the city.

The Mayor now says that Tourek did the right thing by offering as “the exception” to help out an individual employee.  Making this all about one wronged employee is a subterfuge--why should employees have to risk their jobs by blowing the whistle?  When a homeowner subjects his neighbors to weeds and litter in his yard, they don’t have to sue to get relief;  the City enforces its ordinance.

In 2005, New Mexico’s Supreme Court stated that “wages insufficient to support basic needs are a public problem due to the impact on the entire community.” They found that regulating wages was an appropriate use of a City’s police powers.

The Mayor should join us in asking that the City Attorney immediately move to enforce our ordinance, through a civil action to compel the employer to comply with the law.


Whether Berry agrees with Benton or not, the councilors argument for full enforcement is probably best for Berry's political health. He seemed to recognize that when he caved part way this week.

BENTON VS. MEYERS

Meanwhile, appointed Republican City Councilor Roxanna Meyers who is expected to be Benton's chief foe as he seeks re-election in this new North Valley district made a splash Tuesday when she said the controversial roundabout planned for Rio Grande and Candelaria Blvd. is dead. Meyers said she had secured some funding for the work, but a constituent survey showed strong opposition. But we've heard a lot of support as well. Is this the last we have heard of the roundabout? 

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013 
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