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Monday, November 18, 2013

Dem Legislative Leadership Lays Back On Susana As She Preps Re-election Bid; "Lonely Landslide" Theory Surfaces As D's Work to Hold state House, Plus: More On Politics Of Education Battle  

Speaker Martinez
The Democratic leadership in the state legislature is showing no signs of trying to weaken Governor Martinez going into 2014.

Even as economic stagnation continues, debate rages over the Guv's proposed education reforms and the brouhaha over the ABQ public schools superintendent, the leadership of the Dem-controlled state Senate and House have laid low.

Governor Martinez is taking advantage of the clear playing field given her by the legislative Dems (and the Dem Guv candidates) by making a myriad of announcements regarding jobs and education, attempting to shore up any deficiencies in those crucial categories that could be used against her when she stands for re-election next year.

NO FIGHT STRATEGY

Martinez is believed to be polling in the area of 60% voter approval. During her term she has been as high as 68%.

Dem House Speaker Kenny Martinez has signaled a "no fight" strategy with the Guv since taking the gavel. He appears to be playing for a "lonely landslide" by Martinez, similar to what happened with the re-election this month of New Jersey GOP Governor Chris Christie.

Christie won with 60% of the vote in the blue state, but the Jersey Democrats lost no seats in their legislature. Speaker Martinez needs that outcome here because Dems control the 70 member House by only a handful of votes--37 to 33.

Even if the R's picked up only one or two, the prospect of an R led coalition with conservative Dems to take over the House comes into play.

The state Senate is already controlled by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats. A similar coalition in the House with a Republican governor on the Fourth Floor could mean a dramatic turn in the governing philosophy of the state.

If the lonely landslide is indeed the strategy of the Speaker it is not without risk, dissenting Dems point out.

NJ VS. NM

Dem special interest groups--teacher and labor unions among them--pumped an astounding $24 million into New Jersey legislative races in order to prevent Christie and the GOP from making legislative inroads.

In New Mexico, the dark money group NM Competes is already spending tens of thousands of dollars to promote the Governor's education agenda and it won't be long before it--or a similar group-- starts hammering individual Democratic legislators with well-financed hits.

State Dems have yet to answer NM Competes with their own dark money and if they don't or can't we could see the reverse of New Jersey with the Dems here badly outspent and challenged to prevent state House losses in a low-turnout election.

Dem consultants say the alternative to Speaker Martinez's strategy is more aggressive posturing against the Governor's polices to keep her popularity in check, rally the Democratic base and keep in check any coattails that she could sprout.

There are now five Dem candidates for Governor and they are starting to stir, but without paid media it is difficult for them to break through.

Democrats were motivated to fight in New Jersey in part because they did not want Christie using the legislature there to pass A program that he could tout in his expected 2016 presidential race.

Gov. Martinez also has national aspirations, but they are more modest than Christie's, raising the question of whether enough needed national money will materialize here to fight a serious effort by the R's to take control of the state House via a conservative coalition or outright control.

The 2014 session will be telling. Speaker Martinez will be under pressure from the many Dem guv candidates to relinquish his role as "compromiser in chief," abandon the lonely landslide hope and put serious heat on the Guv.

HOLDING BACK

Marty Esquivel
The Democratic strategy of holding back can be seen in the controversy surrounding ABQ Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks.

Senate and House leaders--including House Speaker Martinez and Senate President Pro Tem Mary KayPapen--issued a "bipartisan letter" praising ABQ school board president Marty Esquivel.

Esquivel--a Democrat--was praised by the pair for a three day suspension Brooks received for making disparaging remarks on his Twitter account about state Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera.

However, campaign style attacks on Brooks from New Mexico Competes--which is run by close associates of the Governor--and that were mailed to thousands of households in the city--have drawn no criticism from either Speaker Martinez or other prominent legislative Dems.

Board President Esquivel did condemn the attacks at the time they came public, calling them:

"A sleazy, inflammatory political tactic, an attempt to turn a policy debate into political warfare by demonizing Mr. Brooks.”

WINTER WAITS

As we blog, Superintendent Brooks is still on the job but if he should leave interim APS superintendent Brad Winter could be expected to carry on until a replacement were named by the school board.

But could that replacement be Winter--a longtime ABQ Republican city councilor who along with his attorney wife Nann Winter have deep ties to Governor Martinez and Co.?

Even if Winter did not line up to take the job permanently, if Brooks were to  leave Winter could be in charge of APS through most of next year's election campaign.

For teachers doing battle with the administration over controversial teacher evaluation and testing, that could be like the sound of chalk squealing across the blackboard.

THE SCHOOL BEAT

We asked our Alligators to game out for our statewide audience more of the politics of the Brooks debacle and the teacher testing tempest.

They said that bashing school superintendents is something akin to a parental pastime. Many parents feel short-changed by the school system. The Guv pointing her finger at Brooks gives her a target of blame while she risks little backlash.

School teachers are more popular, but are still convenient targets for a troubled educational system that weighs heavily on parents. Most teacher votes are already Democratic, again giving Martinez somewhat of a free hand for her political arm.

Another point the Gators make is that a not insignificant 13% of ABQ students attend private schools. Those parents may care about APS but not as much as if they had a stake in the game.

Insider polling on how the Governor handles various issues shows her to be weakest in education and the environment. There's not much she can do about her environmental credentials, but she can shove education into the spotlight and set up targets for blame as she goes into the election cycle. And she is.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013. Not for reproduction without permission of the author
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