Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Election Year Budgets From Guv And Legislature Kick Up Little Dust, Plus: Navajo Face-Off As Lovejoy Challenges PRC Incumbent, And: Diane Denish Blogs On Gay Marriage And Politicos 

The election year budget proposals from the Governor and the Legislative Finance Committee are pretty much what you would expect--there are no game-changers that could make the electorate pay close attention what is going on in Santa Fe.

The state, still reeling economically, is fortunate that the long-running bull market in oil prices has flooded the state coffers with cash and helped take the budget back above the $6 billion level--where it was before the recession. The obvious danger for the state continues to be an eventual bear marker in oil and gas prices.

Martinez proposes a 3% increase in overall spending for the budget year that begins July 1. The LFC wants a 4.3% boost. Martinez and the Legislature--dominated by fiscal hawks--have had no significant budget clashes since she took power in 2011.

Both budgets call for keeping a reserve of nearly 10%--way too high for those who want to see the state spend to stimulate the economy, helping out small business and creating construction jobs,

The executive-legislative budget comity is not going to help the Democratic Governor candidates campaigning to replace Martinez this year. They have plenty of issues--foremost among them the dismal jobs outlook--but they are not getting any help from their legislative brethren who see no gain in offering anything dramatically different. Both budgets on the table are incumbent budgets. A final one will emerge--we predict--with relatively little friction and the 30 day session that starts later this month will be about not kicking up any dust.

No Senators are up for re-election this year. State House Dems this session will try to carve out a distinction with Martinez on increasing the minimum wage as well as salaries of state workers. Martinez is again very parsimonious towards the state workforce, recommending that only a small portion of them get pay raises. The LFC recommends an across the board hike of 1.5 percent, hardly an amount that is going to break the bank.

The question remains on how the Dems plan to spark turnout In November among their base voters to protect their slim House majority. The answer does not apparently include vigorously disagreeing with the economic approach of this Governor.

We didn't see any mention of tax cuts by the Governor or the Legislature. That's a change. But don't worry. If you pine for the familiar in Santa Fe, the Guv promises to introduce yet again a bill to repeal driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. We can hardly wait...

The Governor's budget can be found here. The LFC budget is here.


We're looking for this to be an interesting down-ballot race in the June primary as former state Senator Lynda Lovejoy announces this week that she will challenge Public Regulation Commissioner Theresa Becenti-Aguilar for the Democratic nomination for the District 4 slot.

Lovejoy has got to be on the top ten list for appearing on state election ballots. She is a former PRC commissioner, a former member of the state House and state Senate and in 2010 lost a bid for the presidency of the Navajo Nation. In 2012 she lost her state Senate seat in the Dem primary.

Can Lovejoy oust incumbent Becenti-Aguilar who was appointed by Governor Richardson to fill a PRC vacancy but won the seat in her own right in 2010?  It won't be easy.

Becenti-Aguilar easily defeated three Dem primary challengers in 2010, showing she knows how to put together a campaign. Lovejoy is trying to break a losing streak. However, the PRC is always boiling with controversy and Becenti-Aguilar has taken heat from environmentalists concerned about her stand on renewable energy. But local relationships will also be a major factor.

The district covers most of the Navajo Nation. It should be a fun one to watch (No R's need apply here. The District 4 PRC is solid D).


Governor Martinez foes could try to use the tragic abuse death of 9 year old Omaree Varela on the campaign trail as Martinez seeks re-election this year. Here's a sample from one of the Alligators on how those foes could play it:

Martinez was Dona Ana County district attorney when she ran for Governor and she rode her prosecution of the horrific abuse case of Baby Brianna into the Governor's office. She has gone back to that well time and time again when she wanted to claim she was a national leader on child welfare issues. Remember the stories about how personally involved she was in the Baby Brianna case and how close she had become to the family? That approach stands in stark contrast to her approach as Governor in the death of Omaree as Susana is quick to wipe her administration's hands of any blame. 

There's no passion for this case like there was for Baby Brianna. Instead there is the cold touch of passing the buck over to a bureaucracy. Maybe Susana is giving this case the cold shoulder because the fix for this situation takes a lot more knowledge and work as a Governor than it did prosecuting a case in a local district attorney's office.

We will hear more about Omaree and the Children Youth and Families Department when the legislature convenes later this month.


Who were the key players in advancing gay marriage in New Mexico over the years? We mentioned some politicos but former Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish comes with another take:

Most of those you mentioned, and in fact most of us (including yours truly) for much of our political careers tried to hide behind the "civil union" idea, endorsing domestic partner benefits, and support for an all inclusive hate crimes bill but at the same time, because of our own ambitions (and for some the pressure from the churches) were unwilling to embrace the right to marry--regardless of gender. We did what was palatable at the time, but not enough. 

The heroes of the battle were those six couples (five of whom were women) who had the courage to bring the lawsuit in Bernalillo County against the clerks and the state of New Mexico. They had the courage to ask if they were being denied equal rights under the New Mexico Constitution. And, among those couples were Jen and Angelique--two women who were willing to "go public" about their life  of 21 years together, raising 3 children and one one of them battling terminal brain cancer. (Thanks to NM Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez for personalizing the opinion with the plaintiffs stories.) 

And don't forget the attorney who eloquently and passionately argued the case before the court (it was worth listening that day!) -- yes, a woman, Maureen Sanders. 

So while the guys you mentioned took some baby steps, in the end, it was those who have lived the life of unequal rights under the law and the ones who represented them that were the real heroes in 2013. 

Denish served as lieutenant governor from 2003-2010. She lives in ABQ.

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