Monday, March 18, 2013

Surrender In Santa Fe: Dems Cave On Tax Cuts Handing Susana A Sweeping Victory; House Dems Bitterly Divided As R's Plot '14 Takeover; New Speaker Taking Major Hits; Our Complete Wrap Of Session '13  

It's not as if the legislative Democrats brought a knife to the gunfight and were out dueled. They didn't even fight. They disarmed, surrendered peacefully and obsequiously to a triumphant and gleeful Governor Martinez.

As a Senior Alligator put it as the legislative session ended Saturday: "Susana hid her horns and tail very well and emerged with a new image as a tough compromiser--instead of the rigid noncompromiser of her first two years."

She relished her victories--especially the last-minute tax package that included a corporate tax cut--calling them "striking."

And she also displayed some passive-aggressive behavior at her post-legislative news conference that both jolted and amused our Alligators. With a gleam in her eye, she declared: "I even want to thank (Senate Majority Leader) Michael Sanchez."

The session showed that Susana wields the only real knife in Santa Fe. With a smile she plunged it deep into the softness of Sanchez--her one time archrival who she personally worked to defeat last year, but who has now been reduced to the role of Senate traffic cop. He waves through the truck driven by the Governor and conservative coalition leader John Arthur Smith. They pretty much have the run of the road.

For the New Mexico Democratic Party the 2013 legislative session was a rout.

Let's put it this way: If the UNM Lobos play as well as Susana and the coalition did against the Dems, our wolfpack may make the the Final Four.

Was it really that bad for the D's? Yep.

A core value of the 2012 electoral sweep of the national and local Democratic party was no more tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, tax increases on them was the order of the day.

Political blood was shed for that idea and it ended with Obama and congressional Dems winning a long-awaited tax hike on those making over $450,000 a year. So what do the NM Dems do? They give Susana a corporate tax cut and God only knows what else tucked away in a 35 page tax package that most of the House and Senate didn't even know what was being voted on when it was rammed through Saturday in the final seconds of the session.

What was as startling as their cave-in on Republican tax cuts was what the Dems got for selling out--it was dimes for their dollars.

They got the "Breaking Bad" bill that gives incentives for TV shows to be filmed here. A good enough bill, but not good enough to sell your soul for and certainly not one that is going to revive the beaten down film industry after incentives were drastically reduced earlier at the insistence of the Guv.

Lifelong Democrat John Cordova, who learned the game at the knee of the late, great US Senator Dennis Chavez, put this frame around the Dem performance: "No shame, no huevos, no core beliefs."


Who needs Democrats when they do the lifting for the R's, was the question asked again and again after the session. Of course, not by those in the Roundhouse bubble. They were exclaiming that it was a great session--not the nervous breakdown that it was and that puts the state Democratic Party in the intensive care unit.

But, hey, the lawmakers, the staffs, the lobbyists and the interest groups have to get paychecks. For them, any session is a great session. That's why we have a pond full of Dem and Republican Alligators to bring you the unvarnished reality.

So who needs Democrats? Exactly. With her last hour sweeping victory and what some of our analysts called perhaps the best session ever for a Republican Governor in the Dem controlled Legislature--she now is well poised for her '14 re-election bid. Equally important is the new and improved chances for an historic Republican takeover of the state House next year. And that's really what was at stake in this session, but new Speaker Kenny Martinez did not or chose not to believe it. He wore the crown of Kenny the Compromiser only to see the critics pronounce him "Corporate Kenny."

Compromise came not on the Speaker's terms, but on the Governor's. That's why analysts and wall-leaners are going to paint him as vulnerable to a coup.


Speaker Martinez
While Majority Leader Sanchez is outgunned in the Senate by the conservative coalition, Speaker Martinez has no fig leaf to hide behind.

He had two extra House seats to work with as a result of the '12 election, but time and again he backed away from a confrontation with the Fourth Floor---one that could have shown a clear difference in philosophy between the Governor and the Democrats. One that would have acted on the election successes his party had in the state House, the US Senate race and, of course, the second big New Mexico win by Obama. A confrontation that would have the Governor giving more to the party that defeated her political machine and it's $2 million war chest--not the other way around.

What you have in New Mexico is a Democratic Party that thrives at the federal level. That party has been re-energized, with the state now safe for the Dem presidential candidate, the US Senate seats and the northern and ABQ congressional seats.

At the state level, you simply have no leadership to replicate the federal success. You have a flaccid shell of a party that has been rudderless ever since Big Bill vacated the scene.


Looking at the final hour of the session when Speaker Martinez stretched the rules so he could jam through the Republican tax plan the same way the Senate did, you wondered if there ever had been a 2012 election. A new coalition had been born: Speaker Martinez and Governor Martinez. My, oh, my.

It was a very messy ending. A legislative analyst was brought on to the House floor, tongue-tied with fear as he was called on to explain the complicated tax bill with only minutes left. And then there was the way the Speaker ignored the clock to get the bill through and how he handled the counting of a key procedural vote. The panic and fear were palpable. It was like an abortion performed with a coat hanger. Ugly.


Rep. Mimi Stewart
The chaos further tore apart Speaker Martinez's already troubled House Democratic caucus. 13 House Dems--voted against the tax measure--as did 5 Republicans. Veteran ABQ liberal Dem Rep. Mimi Stewart condemned her Speaker for the last minute ploy and said she had never seen anything like it in 19 years at the Roundhouse:

"(The bill) was shoved down our throats...It was a royal screw job," she bristled. (Video here.)

An emailer to the blog piled on: "Kenny is supposed to preside over the House, not sell it out."

The man from Grants--serving his first session as Speaker--said taking out the long knives to combat Susana was not the way to go. Now the long knives are ready for him. He has lost control of much of his caucus and will have little wiggle room going forward. The watchdogs we blogged about that he put in charge of some committees are today barking at him.

You heard the old saying: "This too shall pass." Well, this won't. Brace yourself, Kenny. You're now on the centuries-old stage of La Politica where the lights shine bright.


Senior Alligators across the board agreed the moment of truth came when the House leadership blinked when Gov. Martinez threatened to veto the state budget as well as the "Breaking Bad" bill.

If they had called her bluff, they could have forced a special session, regrouped and taken the game to her by forcing her to compromise on the territory of the majority party that supposedly controls the Legislature. Instead the Dem leadership caved and bought into the Governor's tax package. One wall-leaner in Santa Fe told us they must have forgotten what President Kennedy said:

We cannot negotiate with those who say, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable."


So now what? Can the R's really take back the House after decades in the wilderness? They can if Democratic voters don't see much reason to go out and vote. They waited 60 days for some kind of life, some kind of fight in their leaders. It never came. But people who lean toward Susana do have a reason to be excited to vote for her. She robbed the train from right under the Dems noses and they joined her in calling the crime a compromise. She goes forward just as she planned--with the moniker of "tough compromiser" ready to be stamped on her campaign literature.


The state R's put out a message praising the tax cut deal saying the "legislature was able to find common ground." Then came the money lines just in case anyone got any ideas about this newfound love affair:

As we approach the 2014 election, it is time to focus on gaining Republican control of both chambers, so that we can make the necessary reforms to our broken education system, continue to make New Mexico more job-friendly, and move our state in the right direction.

How come we're not hearing anything from the Dems about taking over the governorship?


Let's imagine the meeting between the Guv and her political adviser Jay McCleskey (aka "The Fifth Floor") following the session.

"Well. things look pretty good, Governor. We're engineering an election where Democratic voters don't care very much so that will keep them from coming out and keep the turnout model similar to when we won in 2010. You don't have any effective opposition for re-election so we have plenty of time and resources for our legislative campaign."

 "Sounds good," Jay. But what about the House?" Susana asks.

"Let's see, Governor. We think we can pick up the Los Alamos area seat held by Garcia Richard. We've got a good shot at the ABQ seat that Republican Conrad James lost last time. Hmm. That takes us to 34 and we only need 35 to tie it up in the 70 member chamber."

Susana mulls it over for a minute and replies, "Jay, don't forget Democrat Sandra Jeff. She'll join a coalition with our Republicans. That ties it up!"

 "You're right, Governor. We're so close, I can taste it."

"What a great session," Susana declares. "What do you say we grab a couple of cappuccinos, Jay?"

"At the Mansion, Governor?"

"Sure, I don't want that $2,700 coffeemaker to go to waste. You know how I hate waste in government..."


Blogger Monahan
Some House Dems may have more than Susana and Jay to worry about come 2014. Could a number of them face primary challenges next year from fellow Dems who smell an opportunity to take on the "corporate tax cutters?"...

The Legislative session strengthens the Governor which makes less likely a strong Dem opponent will emerge later this year when you need to start raising money. Dem Gary King is already announced. His chances for the nomination may have improved because of Susana's solid session, only because no one else may want to take her on. Her approval rating remains north of 60%. She will need some big mistakes to get strong candidates interested.

And you heard it here first--any Democratic legislator thinking about running against the Guv is in trouble. The tax cut fiasco may have finished them off with the party's nominating wing--even if they were among those who voted against the tax cut bill. The Dems best chance is probably a fresh, outside face who can't be readily defined by the Guv....

It is feared that the tax package could cost cities like Albuquerque millions in cuts and force a tax increase. But know one seems to know how it will all play out.

Such is the sausage making in Santa Fe that even the sausage makers don't know what they are putting into the stuff. That doesn't have anything to do with us being 49th or 50th in everything, does it?

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