Monday, February 17, 2014

At The Roundhouse: Mixed Messages From House Dems; Stern R's Take Advantage As Stage Gets Set For November, Plus: Rael's Movida On Morales; Files Court Action To Dump Dem Guv Rival From Ballot, And: Pros And Cons On ABQ's New Top Cop 

GOP Leader Bratton
Whip Gentry
It appears little in the way of meaningful or relevant legislation will make it through the Legislature's 30 day session. The big story may be who comes out best positioned for the battle for the state House in the November election. If the GOP continues to best the Dems at the session, it could set them up for their first takeover of the House since the early 50's, or at least the ability to form a conservative coalition around a new Republican speaker. That last happened over 30 years ago.

With only a handful of days left in the session, insiders of a variety of political stripes say the House R's have had the upper PR hand over the state's majority party which--with only a few exceptions--has been unable to find its voice at the Roundhouse.

Take, for example, the minimum wage--the Holy Grail for Dems across the country. A constitutional amendment that would ask voters to hike the minimum to $8.30 an hour made it through the Senate but appears likely to die in the House. It requires 36 votes and there are only 35 Dems attending the session. And not all of them can be said to be in favor of the amendment.

Pressure is on House Speaker Kenny Martinez to deliver. He and his team have repeatedly pointed to increasing the minimum as a major goal. If the amendment makes the November ballot, it could boost Democratic turnout and help the Dems keep control of the House.

But the House leadership continues to send mixed messages. Last year it rammed through a last minute corporate tax cut that will have to be paid for by cities and counties. Now the leadership is at it again, even as the minimum wage hike is headed toward its death bed. The news:

The House approved a bill  that lawmakers say will attract jobs by giving larger businesses a discounted electricity rate but lets utility companies recoup the money by charging more to families and small businesses. House Bill 296 would help New Mexico attract manufacturing jobs, . . . .according to House Majority Whip Moe Maestas.  “We just want to attract businesses that we think are best for our economy. . . ." Maestas said. Some lawmakers, regulators and advocates say the bill is unfair by making families and small-business customers pay more for electricity.

An electric rate increase for working families (and minimum wage earners) while you argue an increase in the minimum is essential? Hey, maybe they can give a tax credit for those who have to use candles instead of electricity?

It's that mixed messaging amid an economy not creating any jobs and a state slipping ever deeper into poverty that alarms the Democratic base and has the odds makers upping the odds of an historic GOP takeover of the House in 2014.


There's no messaging problem on the R side of the aisle. They are smaller in numbers but make up for it in unity. Our Senior Alligators warned Dems that the GOP would force some tricky votes that could be used against Dem Reps in November. From the NM GOP

The House Democrat majority voted 33-35 against new teacher pay increases when they voted against House Republican Whip Nate Gentry's floor substitute. . . Gentry's substitute would have redirected funding from the Legislative Retirement Fund to provide an additional one million dollars for pay increases for new teachers. The bill would have increased their starting salary from $30,000 to $33,000, and provided $250,000 each for preventing school gun violence, and for training school personnel to detect child abuse and neglect.

The R's will demagogue this one to death come October, charging the Dems with being more concerned with their retirement fund than school kids. So where are the votes to put the R's under the gun, ask the Alligators and Wall-Leaners?

The R's, as always,  have a take-no-prisoners attitude. They smell Dem blood in the water. Even action that is usually left behind-the-scenes is no longer off limits. Here's another GOP hit:

Rep. Brian Egolf, Chairman of the House Energy committee, verbally accosted Rep. James Strickler  . . . .outside the House Chamber Friday, screaming the F-bomb, G--D----, and other obscenities. . .  Egolf blew off a request by a female House staffer who. . . urged him to step into an office. The attack happened after Egolf gave a Do Pass to two pieces of legislation without a quorum in the Energy committee. . . .The committee was five members short after Republicans left to go to the House Appropriations Committee, which was meeting at the same time. 

It's all fair game for the hardened R's whose stern messaging may put off some, but wins respect from voters who see that the GOP has a core set of beliefs and stands by them. That's a potentially deadly contrast with the Dems that could help tip the House.


Some lawmakers at the Roundhouse are calling this the "Small Potatoes Session." It's easy to see why. This week's battle over the state budget centers on a mere $20 million in spending in a budget of more than $6 billion. The "fight" is arcane--"below the line" versus "above the line" spending. With the severe economic and social problems New Mexico is facing, you might find that "over the top." Small potatoes, indeed.

The man who really runs the budget show--conservative Dem and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith--did not hesitate when the state budget stalled on a tie vote in the state House. He came with his own Sunday. It was approved by his committee and it gives Gov. Martinez about $18 million in "below the line" money she wanted for her education department.

Smith and Republican Martinez have worked closely on the budget throughout her term. Both believe in fiscal austerity and are never far apart on the details. Ditto this year.


A potentially significant development in the Dem race for Guv as contender Lawrence Rael tells us he is going to court in an effort to halt the candidacy of rival Howie Morales. Rael claims Morales of Silver City does not have enough valid petition signatures to be considered at the Dem Party's preprimary nominating convention and should be disqualified. Rael's camps says:

We requested the signatures from the Secretary of State and can say that statistically there is no way he will reach the 2,186 threshold needed. We have checked around 1,400 signatures against the voter file and have found at least 617 that are not valid. .. .With another 1,500 to check, if the current ratio of good/bad signatures holds, Sen. Morales will end up several hundred below 2,186.

Howie's camps professes not to be worried and tells us they are ready to defend their signatures in court. Unlike some of the other campaigns Morales did not pay anyone to help him collect signatures. His campaign says all of his were collected by volunteers.

There are five Dem Guv contenders and the ethnic factor looms large. There are three Hispanic hopefuls--Rael, Morales and Linda Lopez.


New Chief Eden & Mayor Berry (ABQ Journal)
Republican Sherman McCorkle thinks new ABQ Police Chief Gorden Eden got an unfair rap from a Dem Alligator who panned Eden's selection by Mayor Berry as "unimaginative" and a "Republican retread":

Joe, whoever the Dem is that blasted the selection of Gorden Eden needs to recheck his load. Gorden has a honorable record and is undeserving of such a rant. If the Dem has issues about R's, so be it. Gorden's long public record speaks for itself. The Alligator may need anger management, but that really has nothing to do with Gorden. 

How Eden, 59, a Republican and cabinet secretary for public safety under Gov. Martinez, was selected comes under fire from this APD observer:

This APD chief selection process ought to infuriate the media and community groups. I am stunned that in light of all the problems APD has had, the Mayor had a two-person panel select a police chief. Talk about a rigged deal. You have Sal Baragiola who was spokesman for ex-Republican Sheriff Darren White and Terry Huertaz who is a conservative with strong Republican ties. To top it off, none other than Chief Administrative Office Rob Perry had input.  Where's the representative from the neighborhood organizations? Mental health advocates? The police union? A nationally-respected police expert? Minority groups?  Clearly, the Mayor had no interest in gathering their input. 

Eden says that recent officer shootings aren't related to misconduct but the public's lack of respect of officers. Really? That doesn't sound like a person that cares to change the ways of APD. If this community was paying attention, it would certainly see that this stinks. Meet the new boss-same as the old boss.

Eden takes over such a mess that he is already on probation without even having served a day. He deserves the benefit of the doubt and best wishes, but he is on a short leash because of the political overtones of his appointment as described above, not to mention his somewhat flippant response about the many police shootings that have brought about a Department of Justice civil rights investigation.

The new chief said such shootings are a problem just about everywhere. but they are not.  That's why the Dept. of Justice is here and why Eden needs to treat that fact with respect--not resentment and defensiveness. Whether he likes it or not, DOJ is, for the time being, his co-chief.

In accepting the appointment Eden noted that he is an ABQ native. "This is my town," He declared. But he has to remember that this is also "our town." He will need to show equal respect for the citizens and the officers he now leads.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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