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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gov. Martinez Opens '14 Session To Mixed Reviews; State of State Lacked Previous Years' Punch, But Did Position Her For Coming Campaign, Plus: Finally Time To Consolidate State Universities?  

The Governor's State of the State speech? Well, it was like spraying a can of Lysol on a really big pile of manure. But Susana did it with a smile and with a Democratic opposition that's essentially neutered. She did no more and no less than she had to do in her fourth such speech on an opening day of the Legislature.

The full speech is here. Text and video here.

The November election was writ large in the House chambers as the Governor began her over 45 minute talk. Unsurprisingly, much of the speech centered on education--an issue that appeals to all voter blocs.

As ABQ Mayor Berry did in his re-election bid last year, Martinez ignored that manure pile and painted a picture of a state with some mild challenges. That did not include depopulation, massive job losses, a weak-kneed economy that continues to teeter, a last in the nation ranking in child well-being as well as a last in the USA high school graduation rate.

By now the New Mexico public knows the score; they know this Governor's promise of "bold change" has turned into a whimper in the face of these generational challenges. But they don't blame her--not yet.

Someone has to shoulder responsibility and Susana trotted out her favorite foil:

The federal government remains deeply in debt, forcing federal budget cuts. Partisanship still rules the day, and the national economy is sluggish. We cannot bank on that changing, not anytime soon.

And she reminded everyone of what observers believe could be the pivotal political moment of her tenure--convincing legislative Democrats to take ownership of the dismal economy by embracing a tax package that included that controversial corporate tax cut:

On tax reform, all sides compromised, and we achieved a great deal for the people of New Mexico. We cut the business tax rate by 22 percent, closed loopholes, and enhanced film incentives for television series filmed in the state.

Not much in there about the Dem bread and butter issues of income inequality and low wages, is there?

The only thing the Dems can now do to break out of the box they are in is to pass aggressive economic and social legislation, put it on her desk and make her cast vetoes. But they have neither the gumption or the votes.

That leaves it up to the Dem Guv candidates to make the case for change. There's still that big pile of manure they can point to, but first they have to get that Lysol can out of Susana's hands.

DEM RESPONSE

Senate Majority Whip and Dem state auditor candidate Tim Keller was one of those who voted for the corporate tax cut. Maybe he regrets it. Here's his response to the Guv's speech:

The challenges New Mexican families face are plentiful but the Governor’s speech painted a rose-colored picture. It was notably absent of any of the big ideas our state needs to truly move the needle on our lagging job growth, to implement sorely needed early childhood programs that benefits our kids first and foremost, or to get our behavioral health system back on track after months of crisis.

GATORS ON THE FLOOR

Several of our Alligators were on the floor of the House as Governor Martinez gave her State of the State. We're going to allow them a critical look, mainly because Martinez is continually touted as a national political figure. With that in mind, to the floor:

The Governor seemed off. Either she was nervous, bored, hadn't spent enough practice time with the speech and/or the tele-prompter. She showed up late and the lieutenant governor had to stall for time. She was clearly irked by the icy reception she got from the Democrats and forced several irritated smiles in their direction.

NO THEME?

It seemed less polished and more disjointed than previous speeches. It lacked any broad thematic efforts that pointed to who she was. She logically pointed to jobs and education as her themes but failed to hammer home why they were so important. Most governors would talk about why where we are is unacceptable in those areas (that was surely her approach years ago) but she seemed to shy away from that and attempt to claim very weakly that we were improving.

NEW IDEAS?

Her legislative efforts were largely centered around extending current policies and she resisted touting any new ideas. Notably absent in all of her boasting of child protection efforts was any reference to the tragic death of a 9 year old in Albuquerque recently. Any plans to reform CYFD? No. 

NATIONAL CALIBER?

She did a good job of bringing interesting guests to the room that she cited in her remarks, but she had a difficult time with the build up to introducing those guests. Kind of underwhelming. I wondered, what happened to the speaker we saw at the 2012 Republican National Convention?

CROWD APATHY

Striking to me was how disinterested the crowd was from the start. Prior speeches of hers or Gov. Richardson's kept people captive. But in this case, people started leaving halfway through. All in all it was a strange speech for such a highly-touted speaker that allegedly has national aspirations.

BLOGGER TAKE

Our take was that the buzz has left the building. When the cash is flowing and the hammers are hitting nails there's money and power up for grabs. Not so much anymore. After five years of getting slammed and still seeing no end, the state has become poorer and its politics more anemic. We won't call Martinez's so-so speech boring.  Let's just say it wasn't compelling because it addressed a reality of her own making, or, as Sen. Keller said:

The Governor’s proposed policies do not touch on the everyday realities that New Mexicans experience....

CHANDLER'S CHOICE

As we blogged yesterday, Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler Monday night abruptly announced he would resign as DA effective March 1. What made the 38 year old rising GOP star throw in the towel on his political career and go into private law? A state legislator familiar with the situation says Chandler's resignation was a result of "personal, family matters." The details will soon be filled in.

WNMU WOES

With this news as a backdrop, now seems the perfect time to at least attempt to consolidate the state's sprawling, inefficient and too expensive university system:

Western New Mexico University {in Silver City} plans to slash spending by 4 percent to make ends meet, a move that will likely involve layoffs of faculty and staff, followed by additional job cuts, higher tuition, consolidation of classes and the elimination of less popular courses. The changes are needed because a projected 5 percent increase in student enrollment did not materialize,

WNMU, Eastern New Mexico University and Highlands University are all going to encounter financial problems in the years ahead as rural populations dwindle. Education experts will tell you the state would do well with only UNM and New Mexico state, with the others being branches of those colleges.

Our small state has all these universities because of the politics of the past. That's not going to play in the 21st century. The WNMU woes give NMSU President Carruthers and UNM President Frank the opportunity to get the ball rolling.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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