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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Bear Is Still Out Of His Lair: Jobs Picture Remains Bleak; How To Protect Yourself And What's The Political Impact, Plus: The Woes Of Webber; Dem Guv Hopeful With Deep Pockets Encounters Potholes 

The "new normal" is getting old.

Again we are slammed with job numbers that indicate that most of the state is in a permanent state of no growth or little growth. It has been that way for over four years, but now the helplessness among policy makers, politicians and the population has cemented.

Business owners and economists will tell you that the momentum of the national recovery that is well underway has bypassed our state. There is nothing concrete on the table--absent perhaps the long-shot landing of the Tesla gigafactory--that is going to turn it around. In other words, for the foreseeable future, what you see is what you get.

What does it mean? Our economy watchers say. . . .

The downtrodden economy--especially along the Rio Grande Corridor--will become an issue in the forthcoming gubernatorial campaign but no matter who is elected we are years away--perhaps decades--from anything like the boom we had prior to the crash.

They say it means if you have a good paying job hold on to it; if you are unemployed long-term, look to leave to a surrounding state; don't expect the price of your house in an average neighborhood to increase more than the rate of inflation; if you own a business sharpen customer service to protect market share and invest in yourself--education is protection against unemployment. More than ever, the new New Mexico economy dictates that the less education you have, the less chance you have of landing a decent job. Construction and manufacturing jobs that the less formally educated have filled have been decimated.

EVERYONE BUT US

The state's stagnant population growth over the past two years reflects all of this and more.  College students know the score and already have one foot out the door as we mark another graduation season. The job growth data from April 2013 to April 2014 tells the tale:

Arizona: +40,600; Colorado: +70,800; Nevada: +44,700; NEW MEXICO: -5,900; Oklahoma: +25,600; Texas: +348,000; Utah: +38,500

Even if the numbers are skewed, they have the trend right--we are the only state in the region still in a jobs recession. The grass is indeed greener on the other side. . .

HERE IN RIVER CITY

The stats show the loss of federal government jobs is a major driver of the economic bleed, but in the ABQ market the jobs decline seems more pernicious--impacting a wide swath of sectors:

The Albuquerque area suffered its seventh consecutive month of year-over-year job losses in the 12 months that ended April 30, losing 4,500 jobs for a negative 1.2 percent growth rate, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said. 

The losses were widespread, with eight industry sectors shedding jobs and two gaining. Professional and business services led the job bleeding, losing 1,400 positions over the year. It was followed by construction, which lost 1,200 jobs, and manufacturing, which was down 1,100 jobs
As of April’s end, the four-county area had 368,200 jobs, down from 372,700 in April 2013, and down 7.9 percent from the peak of 399,500 in December 2007.

Again, there is quibbling over the numbers, but not the trend.

JOBS AND POLITICS

Politically, the Democrats could be well-served by hammering away for an increase in the statewide minimum wage because all the wage power in a job market like this is with the employer. Republican Gov. Martinez would probably be well-served to show a more activist approach to the ABQ economy.

If a Dem caught fire here with the argument that we are the odd man out when it comes to getting back on a firm economic footing, it could overwhelm the Guv's strength elsewhere. With this economic backdrop, we expect to see a lot of Governor Martinez in the Duke City come the fall. 

Martinez has pointed to economic success along the US-Mexico border that has given hope for a long-term revival there and then there is the never-ending oil boom in the SE that has gotten so wild that hotel rooms go for over $200 a night.  But those areas are not the population centers of New Mexico. They are not where the votes are.

Does the helplessness of the policy makers and politicians reflect low expectations by the population at large? Maybe, but the remarkable dearth of outspoken, optimistic and upbeat leadership reinforces that attitude. Leadership matters. . .

ON THE TRAIL

They are good for raising money but they could lose you votes in a Democratic state. The Guv's campaign says that when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie campaigns for her later this month it will be in the out of the way Artesia-Roswell area. Earlier the campaign said ex-VP Cheney would do a  fundraiser for the Guv at an invitation only event in Las Cruces--also far away from ABQ media.

To restate the obvious--this is  Democratic state that doesn't look kindly on the politics of Cheney and Christie. They are good at raising money for the Guv, but they have to be handled carefully--if they give off any sparks it could start a fire. . .

THE ODD COUPLE

You'll see stranger things in politics, but not many. The ABQ Journal, after years of excoriating the performance of Attorney General Gary King, turns around and endorses him for the Dem nod for Governor in the June 3 primary. King's foes claim he would be the weakest opponent for the paper's beloved Gov. Martinez and that's why the paper came out for him. On the other hand, the next time the paper comes with another blistering assessment of his performance as AG Gary can proudly wave that editorial.

WEBBER WOES

Some Dems argue that Alan Webber presents the most serious threat to Martinez because he has deep pockets and could dig into them to help finance a challenge to the Guv. Webber has already put up $450,000 for his primary effort and that has helped him dominate the TV airwaves among the five Dem hopefuls. He came with his second TV spot over the weekend.

But money has not been able to smooth out the many potholes the first time candidate has encountered as he steps into the bright spotlight of La Politica. The Martinez campaign has been on him like white on rice, And they have scored some wins. They busted Webber for accepting fundraising support from 60's radical Mark Rudd, they dug up old statements about Webber advocating for a fifty cent a gallon gas tax and then the Martinez campaign trackers busted him on statewide TV. They caught on video a Webber speech in Taos in which he says New Jersey Governor Christ Christie could "blot out the sun. . . he's a big man."

And the pounding continued with state Senator Cliff Pirtle penning an op-ed faulting Webber for writing that Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks like a "hillbilly." Webber was forced to apologize for both the Perry and Christie comments.

No question Webber's checkbook has gotten the attention of the Guv and her operatives, but he is also enduring criticism from fellow Dems who see him putting up television spots that well...don't...seem to hit the spot. In his first ad he did  take a swing at Martinez, but the Alligators who see long odds in beating her no matter who wins the nomination remain skeptical. Two of them come with this critique of the top spending Dem contestant:

These ads are trying to be different and creative but they have no "punch." If you want to go creative, it has to stick with people and make an impression. These ads just have too soft a landing. Also, the ads aren't raising the level of interest or motivating Democratic voters to get excited about who he is and how he'll beat Susana. 

Webber from the start claimed he has something different to offer and the visuals in his ads try to be different but the context is the same old rote Democratic message--raise the minimum wage, increase renewable energy, etc. . . How is this presenting himself as the new ideas guy? The ads use creative visuals but then they use some old stock footage we've seen a gazillion times before of "fat cats" boarding a jet on a tarmac.

Also, Whoever is dressing Webber for these ads is missing the mark. They present a guy who looks like a night manager at a Silicon Valley tech firm, not someone preparing to govern New Mexicans. I can't imagine they are focus-grouping these ads because Webber looks uncomfortable and out of place. Not to mention he looks like he would be really hot and uncomfortable walking around the desert in a black shirt on a sunny day!

The latest ad highlights a real problem all these Democratic candidates for Governor (and their consultants) have: they don't seem to understand this election isn't about who they are. It's about who they aren't. If they are going to have any shot of making a real race out of this campaign, they have got to start talking straight, vigorously and often about the incumbent governor and her record. Period.

This is a case of giving your DC media consultants too long of a creative leash--they aren't being held in check. Don't get me wrong, these ads could help him win the Democratic primary--especially since he is spending much more than any other candidate--but after the primary the general election voters could have a hard time shaking these first impressions of Webber.

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