Monday, March 04, 2013

More Limbo In Store For Hanna? Senate Watchers Say Her Confirmation Could End In Committee; No Full Senate Vote; Why That Matters, Plus: The Villanucci Backstory; Ousted Radio Talker Talks To Us, And: A Mayor '13 Update 

Let's kick off this Monday by wishing good health to State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

He was taken to the hospital from the Capitol Friday when he complained of dizziness. He was released after several hours of observation. It was the third health incident for the 62 year old in recent months. He had a heart procedure last July and on February 14 he was absent from the legislative session for several days as he underwent a heart angioplasty and stent operation.

It is nothing if not a pressure cooker in the final two weeks of the 60 day legislative session for lawmakers like Sanchez who are at the top of the food chain.

One of our wall-leaners told us:

"Michael is a devoted family man and routinely drives back and forth from Belen for the daily sessions. That's 90 minutes each way and I can't help but think that puts strain on him. He's not easy to approach on such matters so I am telling you.

Sanchez controls the flow of legislation in Senate and now is his busiest time. But it's also the time for him and his colleagues in the House and Senate to take some stress breaks as needed.


Hanna Skandera
The most recent stress on Sanchez is the fight over the confirmation of Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera.

After an emotional two day hearing before the Senate Rules Committee, educators across the state--a key constituency of the Democratic Party--are fired up and determined to see Skandera's nomination continue to hang in limbo or be voted down. (Video here and here). And according to our Senate insiders, they may get their wish.

Leader Sanchez notes that if the rules committee ties on whether to confirm Skandera there will be no vote by the full Senate. Does that mean there will indeed be a tie in committee? Our watchers say one committee Democrat appears supportive of Skandera. If that D joins with all the R's, the vote will tie and Skandera will remain in political limbo. The Senate has kept Skandera and Governor Martinez hanging for two years.

If Sanchez were somehow to lose control of this, it could blow up and hand a major victory to Governor Martinez--maybe even a victory with national implications. She could argue that the Democratic Senate had ratified not only Skandera but her controversial educational platform that draws so much ire from teachers.

We point this out because of the coalition that runs the Senate. If four conservative coalition Dems joined with the 17 R's, Skandera would be confirmed. It would mean a 21 to 21 tie in the 42 member body which would be broken in favor of Skandera by GOP Lt. Governor John Sanchez.

You can see why it is significant that leader Sanchez is pointing out there will be no Skandera vote in the full Senate if the rules committee ties. That certainly seems to be the best outcome for him and the Dems because when the pressure is on for the party to stick together not all Senate Dems can be counted on.

Thousands of emails from education interests have bombarded state senators urging a rejection of Skandera. Sanchez will be in need of a stress break when the Skandera situation is finally situated.


Jim Villanucci
The owners of KKOB-AM radio say Jim Villanucci, their star talk show personality, wasn't fired, but he might as well have been. Radio insiders say Cumulus Media has made it a habit of offering well-paid talent take-it-or-leave-it offers to trim their payrolls and bolster their profits.

Villanucci told me he had already suffered a big pay cut from the previous station owner and it appeared another was in store as Cumulus continues the cost cutting. But it never got that far.

Villanucci, 50, had been at the station since 1999. His contract expired last week and his final show was Thursday. He said he was not offered a renewal. On Friday when the show came on at its usual time of 3 p.m. it was hosted by a substitute who never even mentioned that Villanucci was gone for good.

Villanucci told me over the course of several conversations before he was let go that he had grown tired of the conservative talk station. It is the home to national talkers Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and still the #1 station in the ABQ market but far from wielding the dominance it once did.

He said the format had become too right wing for his tastes and that the callers and their viewpoints also had made him weary.

Critics of Villanucci said his show had lost its edge and that he was on "automatic pilot."

He called us Friday from Las Vegas, NV where he worked in radio before coming to ABQ. He said he would be spending the next several months there. In an earlier conversation he said he doesn't have any firm plans, but is eyeing a possible sports-talk show opportunity in ABQ.

The departure of Villanucci comes on the heels of the ouster of longtime KKOB general manager Milt McConnell. Of course, management does not refer to these departures as firings. but that's indeed what they amount to.

In recent years the station has also downsized its news department which continues to put out a good product, despite fewer resources.

Rush Limbaugh is central to the KKOB-AM format, but Villanucci told me he expects Limbaugh to also end his long run on the station. Limbaugh is syndicated through a rival radio group and Cumulus can save money by filling the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot with one of their own syndicated hosts.

Billings for the Villanucci show were good, but not what they used to be--not by a long shot. He said the economic downturn caused revenues to plunge and then stabilize at a much lower level. But it was still a highly-rated program when Villanucci exited.

The station says program director Pat Frisch will take over the Villanucci show for the time being and keep flowing the conservative juices that fuel the station.

But Frisch and KKOB morning host Bob Clark are playing to a smaller audience as some listeners move away from the Limbaugh formula. Villanucci was attempting to be more centrist following the November election results, but he did not get any kudos from station management for doing so. The station may be less in the mainstream today,  but its core audience is what it shops to advertisers--even if it's a shrinking one.

The new manager of KKOB-AM, a 50,000 watt radio mainstay here first established in the 1920's, referred to its "iconic" status as Villanucci departed. Well, it's an icon in the history books, but years of stripping away its innards has left the station a ghost of its former self and vulnerable to competitors on both the radio dial and Internet.

As we say on the radio: "Stay tuned."


Our Alligators report that the name of former GOP NM Governor Garrey Carruthers is floating around in Las Cruces as the possible next president of New Mexico State University. He is currently dean of the NMSU business school. Carruthers, 73, served as Governor from 1987 to 1991. The schools Board of Regents hire the president. They are appointed by the current Governor.


If you find yourself getting a wee bit more interested in the  2013 legislative session as it enters its final stetch, you can track the action to come in the final two weeks via this web page.

MAYOR '13 

We blogged last week that insider polling showing ABQ Berry's approval rating at 71% obviously puts him in a strong position as he begins his re-election bid but not all Dems are pessimistic over their chances of taking the mayor's office back. A reader writes:

With Diane Denish and the other potential candidates out, I think this is Pete Dinelli's race to win or lose. If the Dem machine gets behind him with their money, the public will sure be reminded of all those things Berry would like them to forget. If the Dems walk away, which would make no sense, it would be a tough climb but not impossible. Who would have thought Berry would beat Marty Chavez in 2009. Like Berry today, Marty's polling numbers were also high. Some good media spots is all it takes.

Dinelli, a former public safety director for the city, announced his candidacy in January. Margaret Aragon de Chavez, another Dem and former wife of ABQ Mayor Chavez, has not made an official announcement, but is collecting petition signatures. Retired ABQ police department Seargent Paul Heh,a Republican, and Berry have both announced candidacies.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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