Tuesday, January 21, 2014
All Eyes On House As 2014 Legislative Session Kicks Off; Dem Absences Could Cause Power Shift And GOP Mischief, Plus: Our Session Preview On Key Players And Issues, And: Chandler Stunner: He Will Resign As Clovis DA
Maybe the Republicans won't have to wait for the November elections to take over the NM House. That's the story on everyone's lips as the 2014 legislative session kicks off for a 30 day meet today.
Dona Ana Dem Rep. Phil Archuleta won't be at the Roundhouse for the start of the session as he recovers from hip surgery and ABQ Dem Rep. Ernie Chavez will not make it either--also because of health problems. That will make the partisan split in the House 35 Dems to 33 R's. A switch of only two Dems and a unified GOP would give the R's a working majority--at least until Archuleta or Chavez return.
Of course, the standing joke is that after House Speaker Kenny Martinez rammed through a controversial corporate tax cut at the last session, the GOP is already in control and giving them a working majority isn't going to change much of anything.
Speaking of the Speaker, our Senior Alligators posted at secret locations in the storied Roundhouse come with this take:
Action in the House will remain a nail biting experience. Since the last session's last minute movida on corporate tax cuts, Democrats and progressives activists continue to question why Speaker Kenny Martinez drove the Republican corporate tax cuts through in the final seconds. The Speaker also prohibited anyone rising to debate or question the surprise tax cuts. The questions include what the Speaker accepted from the Governor in return for shepherding through the House the supply side philosophy that cutting taxes for the wealthy will trickle down to average New Mexicans. The Speaker's own tax committee chairman and several other Democratic members of that committee opposed the corporate cuts despite Speaker Martinez's support...
If Archuleta and Chavez don't show, the Speaker may not be able to hold up bills in House committees and will have difficulty controlling procedural floor votes. Already, House Democrats now caucus only infrequently to avoid inflaming internal disagreements.
And the consequences to the Speaker of his ramming that corporate tax bill through will be apparent this session. He may no longer be able to credibly invoke the "sanctity" of the committee process. His own members may join with Republicans to "blast" bills out of committee and beyond the Speaker's control. The corporate tax bill was cobbled together in the last minutes and the bill never went through any committee approval.
KENNY VS. MIMI
Insiders say whatever deal the Speaker cut with the Governor's staff also didn't include the soon-to-be influential Appropriations Committee member Patty Lundstrum. If you begin to see the trend it's the displeasure of many women Dem Reps, who had been looking forward to a different House under Martinez than the one run by former Speaker Lujan. Count Representatives Sandra Jeff, Sheryl Stapleton, Mary Helen Garcia, Debbie Rodella and many freshman reps who are now disillusioned.
DEALING WITH SUSANA
This theory was also making the rounds at the Roundhouse in the hours before the session. Does the fact that the Speaker cut a deal with the Governor's people in the final minutes of the last session set an unintended example? Will House Dems feel at liberty to now cut their own individual deals and make a path to the Fourth Floor inadvertently cleared by the Speaker himself?
Martinez's administration has not proven itself effective at passing its top legislation, but after getting the corporate tax cuts Republicans wanted, even this administration can figure out how to peel off the two or three Dems it might take to move the Republican bills to the House floor.
YOU CAN SMELL IT
The Speaker will rely on the Senate to block the Republicans, but he may not be able to protect his own members from having to take problematic votes in committee and on the floor. Republicans can smell a takeover of the House for the first time since Eisenhower was President.
They will want Democratic incumbents in swing seats taking committee and floor votes which poll right, and which can then be used by Republican challengers in November. Expect controversial and partisan bills to be strategically introduced in the House and "messaged" by the Governor's political team, which will be running the House session from "The Fifth Floor."
Another wall-leaner told us what could be "the ultimate irony."
That would be if the Governor and her handlers take over the House at the November elections. The decision of the Democratic Speaker to pass Republican corporate tax cuts might have been the pivotal moment that cost Democrats the majority and the Speaker his title. That bill may have also assured the Governor's reelection and a capitulation by the Dems legislative leadership almost two years before the election.
The Senators now running for Governor (Linda Lopez and Howie Morales) voted against the corporate cuts knowing that voting otherwise would doom their ambitions for higher office among the party base.
One of the most powerful members of the legislature is conservative Democratic State Senator John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith, chair of Senate Finance. Roundhouse veterans say notwithstanding Dem Party Chair Bregman's protests, Smith will continue to dominate all matters of budget, finance and tax policy in Santa Fe.
The Governor's staff will continue to defer to Smith and other fiscally conservative Democrats over the budget and make minor changes around the edges. Though the Governor has repeatedly threatened special legislative sessions those threats have been mostly hollow. In an election year legislators won't believe any threats of a special session and the Governor will have little leverage on the budget in Senate Finance.
The Governor has been traveling the state announcing favored capital outlay projects. All have been based on an assumption legislators will relinquish their power of appropriation. It won't matter that the projects announced in news conferences by the Governor may not actually be enacted by the Legislature. The point in this election year was the favorable press coverage itself.
Top lawmakers say education will again be a battleground as it has been the first three years of the Martinez administration. Not much change can be expected. Despite statements of Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, it remains uncertain if education secretary-designate Hanna Skandera will come up for a confirmation vote in the Senate. Also, expect sharp debate over the future of the lottery scholarships and who should qualify for them.
One legislator close to the issue says the relationships between the Governor, educators and administrators are so strained that the likely outcome is continued stalemate. There is growing skepticism among Democrats of the administration's motivations and relationships with the private education industry.
Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler, often thought of as a rising star in the NM GOP, stunned the state Monday night announcing he will resign as district attorney March 1. Chandler, the DA since 2005 and the GOP's 2008 attorney general candidate, said:
After several months of prayer and consideration. I made the decision to pursue new endeavors in the private sector.
Chandler says he will open a private law practice.
Rumors have swirled around the 38 year old Chandler in recent months--that he might be in line to become Governor Martinez's chief of staff or that he would again run for attorney general (Martinez will name a replacement for Chandler).
Chandler was recently appointed special prosecutor for the Roswell school shooting case and says he will see that case through.
Asked about running again for AG this year, he said:
At this time, my focus is going to be on the transition of the district attorney’s office, as well as opening my private practice in Clovis.
That seems a bit enigmatic, but so does this sudden resignation from the DA job he held for nearly ten years.
Just what is going on with Matt Chandler? That's a question La Politica is not going to let go of until it gets some answers.
THE BOTTOM LINES
There's a new member of the Santa Fe lobbying corp this session--one with very close ties to the Fourth Floor--and the Fifth Floor. He's Darren White, the former Bernalillo County sheriff and ABQ public safety director and most recently a VP at the ABQ Downs.
Records from the secretary of state show that White is now operating Buzzsaw Strategies. He identifies three companies he is lobbying for--the ABQ Downs, Century Link and Scientific Games which contracts with the NM lottery.
White landed his Downs job after the Martinez administration approved a controversial 25 year lease for the racino. Prior to that he was forced from his ABQ public safety job when his wife was involved in an auto accident and he in turn involved himself in how police handled that accident.
White, 50, is a close friend of Guv political adviser Jay McCleskey (aka "The Fifth Floor") and appeared in a campaign ad on behalf of then-Guv candidate Susana Martinez....
The top lines of the AP's session preview make for the bottom lines on the '14 session:
The challenges are plentiful. New Mexico lags behind its neighboring states in job growth. Thirty percent of students fail to graduate from high school, and the state was ranked worst in the country for child well-being last year by a national charitable foundation.
Good luck, Santa Fe.
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author