Thursday, March 14, 2013

Final Hours Of Session '13 Have Susana Pulling Chain Of Dems On Budget; A '14 Play For House Control? Plus: Guv Worked During Session To Cover Middle Ground; How She Did It, And: Councilor Lewis Calls For Ouster Of APD Chief Schultz  

You can't always get what you want but you get what you need. So opined Dem State Rep. Bill McCamley as he paraphrased the venerable Rolling Stones in sending a message to Governor Martinez  about the $5.9 billion budget that passed the Senate unanimously and won House approval Wednesday on a mainly party line vote of 37 to 33. No matter the advice of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, Susana is saber-rattling and preparing to cast a budget veto.

Rattling the saber in the wake of an unanimous Senate budget vote is not only a bit brazen but fun. It shows how much in charge her side has been this session. One wonders what last minute goodies she can extract by her veto. One also suspects she will take the game only so far and get the car in the garage by noon Saturday when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.

The timing of the veto and the time to turn around a new budget bill are critical at this stage. A special sessionis always politically risky for a Governor. They can veer out of control. They are also expensive and taxpayers won't like that, whether it comes right away or sometime before the budget year begins July 1. And what about all those Senate Republicans who voted for the budget? They are all wrong?

Several observers we asked said what appears to be going on in the final hours is a set-up by the Guv to make a play in 2014 for an R takeover of the closely divided House. As we outline below the Guv has done a pretty good job in resetting voter perceptions that she has moved to the center. Now she can move toward a fresh political kill. Look at her statement on why she is supposedly upset with a Legislature that has for the most part bent over backwards to appease her:

I'm very disappointed in the lack of compromise by the other party, and by the unbalanced approach to our state budget taken by many lawmakers. While the Democrats want me to agree to pay increases for government employees and larger subsidies for Hollywood corporations, they have refused to pass meaningful education reforms to improve student achievement, and they have refused to lower taxes to make New Mexico more competitive to help businesses grow and to create more jobs...They have also refused to pass a bill repealing the law giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, despite my repeated attempts at compromise.

That's small potatoes stuff but she needs fightin' words for '14 to get her base voters on the move and give them a reason to throw the bums out. We mean when did the driver's licenses become a big budget issue? Well, that's the kind of Fourth Floor sloppiness that tells the Alligators what they are really thinking.

And how about the Hollywood bashing? That was on the backburner for a while, but it's back to fire up the base as Martinez's confidence grows that her own re-election is looking more secure and that the chair belonging to Democratic House Speaker Ken Martinez can be hers. (Does Kenny and the lobbyists who coo at his very word even know it yet?)

As for the pay raises for state employees Susana lit into, we're talking 1 percent. And that's after no raises for over 4 years! But she wants to make it look like the Dems have given her a mountain to climb, not the mole hill they actually have.


While we wait for the last minute machinations to play out, let's take a look at just how the Guv played this session up to this point:

--Governor Martinez was shaken by the big Dem 2012 win in New Mexico that showed the state tilting more blue and the Republican brand badly damaged. But she has gone on the offensive to rebrand herself this legislative session--the last big one before the 2014 election--and with a rudderless opposition she has made a good job of it.

--Even before the start of this 60 day session, Martinez signed off on the expansion of Medicaid as called for under Obamacare. She was only the second Republican Governor to do so. You could say it was a no-brainer in a Dem dominated state, but she did it and it immediately bolstered her centrist credentials.

--During the session she continued her effort to smooth out her sharp Republican edges. She toyed for a time with a major compromise on the repeal of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, but then retreated to a more conservative position. It may have ended as a win-win for her. She showed some willingness to make a deal, but the legislative Dems (and Republican Senate Leader Ingle) never sent a bill to her desk that would have put her on the spot. The driver's licenses will still be available to her as a way of motivating her base, even as she wears the cloak of compromiser.

--After several years of foot-dragging she embraced the NM Spaceport and made the liability bill a top priority. It passed, ending the Governor's war once and and for all over this legacy project of her Democratic predecessor.

--The Governor, who bragged before the Republican National Convention last year that as a young security guard she carried a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, did not let her party base stop her from making a move to the center on gun control. She even won praise for it from liberals and did not appear to damage her standing with her Republicans. (Advocates for gun control are making a last minute play today and tomorrow to try to get what they call a gun show loophole to the Guv's desk. It has passed the House. Senate Judiciary chair Richard Martinez is getting heat to move on it.)

--With one notable mishap over abortion, the Governor has been able to prevent far right social issue legislation from getting serious treatment. The House and Senate GOP caucucuses have been disciplined since the early abortion fiasco.

--She didn't really have to change her strategy much when it came to the state budget. She has cut an early deal on it in each of the legislative sessions she has presided over. Unlike Washington, where conservative Republicans have laid down numerous markers over spending, Martinez has been helped along by conservative Dems led by Sen. John Arthur Smith who still hold sway in Santa Fe. The lack of big budget fights have kept her from being pinned to her party's unpopular right wing.


Unlike her first two legislative sessions, this year there was no stern Martinez pounding the table and unleashing political operatives to harass legislators with robocalls to their districts or her chief of staff pinning them up a against the Roundhouse walls. That would not fit in with the revised image she crafted. And all that table-pounding was aimed at having the R's take over the House in '12. That battle is over for now, but will be rejoined in the fall of '14 as witnessed by her end-of-session rhetoric over the budget.

And newly "centrist" Susana continues to campaign outside of the walls of the Capitol. In an op-ed column this week Martinez comes with a signed piece with the headline "NM Will Fight For Labs and Bases."

How about that? For two years Martinez has not said much of anything about fighting for the huge defense and energy establishment here that is threatened with budget cuts. Instead she has insisted that the federal largess be replaced with private sector jobs. She is still careful to blame Washington for the funding mess, but this is the most vocal she's been in saying she also has a role to play. Besides, thousands of people work directly and indirectly for the feds--and they vote. So she is now shoring up her potential weakness with them.

In that op-ed the GOP Governor put a cherry on top by calling it "beneficial" that Dem Senator Udall has landed a spot on the powerful appropriations committee. (Tom, you must be thrilled).

Clearly, Martinez does not want to rile up the Dems and create a large turnout election in which she would be threatened. Her legislative session has positioned her as a reasonable steward who is not part of the right-wing craziness that has infected the national R's.

The stem prosecutor of 2010 who clung to the skirts of personalities like Sarah Palin is gone or in hiding. Martinez has read the election returns closely--and acted. She has made the turn to the center and she did it with the help of a divided Democratic Party that has been unable to focus on a singular message (like the economy) that would block her path to the middle. That's why it has been a pretty solid session for the Guv.


After that op-ed piece in which Martinez pauses to praise Senator Udall, it's again worth mentioning our theory that the GOP will not field a serious challenger against him in 2014. A competitive race would boost Dem turnout and that would be bad for Martinez. Ditto for a challenge to freshman ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. We think the R's are going to let sleeping dogs lie and let her be for the same reason they won't contest Udall. Just a theory, but so far it's the right one.


We blogged this week that the institutions that need to kick in when it comes to the very troubled ABQ police department were finally kicking in. (The courts, the city council, the media etc.) The ABQ Journal's Dan McKay and Jeff Proctor come with news that buttresses that view:

City Council President Dan Lewis says Albuquerque needs a new police chief in the wake of a federal investigation into the department and other controversy that has “engulfed and tarnished” the reputation of APD. In a Journal interview Wednesday, Lewis said Chief Ray Schultz is a good, hard-working man who can make some changes, “but he cannot change the negative perception that this mess has left behind.

Lewis is a Republican as is Mayor Berry. A vote of no confidence in Schultz by the nine member council is possible. Lewis has expressed concern about APD for several years. His views seem to reflect the unspoken views of the city's business and political elite--APD has a cultural problem and Schultz has worn out his welcome

We carried speculation on the blog Wednesday that the Department of Justice civil rights probe of APD could turn into a criminal investigation. That may be weighing on Lewis and the other councilors. If Justice explodes the department, questions are going to be asked about why the city councilors were not on the case. Mayor Berry's hand is about to be forced if he does not show the chief the door.


Reader Arnold Cordova answers criticism of a front-page WSJ article that presented southern NM GOP conservative Congressman Steve Pearce as an example of how to attract Hispanic voters:

While Rep. Pearce is no doubt a far right conservative, he has long expressed the need to embrace a policy that opens our border to a needed worker force. He has long stated that work visas allowing for easier legal border crossing would help US business by providing workers easier access to jobs. Hopefully our elected officials can find common ground on this issue..

Thanks for that, Arnold. One thing about Pearce, he does not ignore any of his constituents. He is constantly traveling the district and that has reinforced his popularity. Heck, when we were in DC last year, Pearce sat down with us for a lengthy and informative chat. He might have gritted his teeth doing it, but we appreciated it nonetheless.

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