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Friday, August 29, 2014

Heinrich Plunges Into State Politics With Endorsement Of Early Childhood Amendment; "It's Raining," He Declares; Power Play Raises Questions About Future Moves 

Sen. Heinrich
For a member of the state's congressional delegation, Senator Martin Heinrich is taking a rare foray into state politics. He's publicly endorsing the years-long drive to use a portion of the state's giant Land Grant Permanent Fund (over $14 billion) to fund very early childhood programs. And Heinrich's announcement had edge--he made it before the ABQ Chamber of Commerce, the epicenter of opposition to the proposal:

I don’t think there’s any denying that expanding access to high-quality early childhood education would generate a significant return on investment for our state, and I think the time is now to take that investment seriously and look at how we can give a leg up to New Mexico’s next generation. . . I know that this proposal does not come without controversy. I recognize that many people view this fund, rightly so, as our rainy day fund. But I have news: It is raining. And it is time to think out of the box about how we lay the groundwork for our state for decades to come.

(Complete speech to the Chamber is here.)

The state's drift even further downward in the national rankings has given the Permanent Fund proposal--which would have to be approved by voters--more momentum. But the Governor who is presiding over the decline was quick to get her back up over Heinrich's aggressive move. Her office said:

It’s no surprise that a Washington politician, with the country nearly $18 trillion in debt, has no problem raiding our children’s savings account.

Clearly there is no love lost between Martinez and Heinrich, but is the slash, burn and attack message from the Governor really necessary?  If she had to say anything at this time, how about a genuine rebuttal based on the facts? Incessant campaign-style negativity is the hallmark of the Fourth Floor and it could be wearing thin.

According to one Dem who tracks such things, that recent TV ad from the Governor making fun of Dem Guv nominee Gary King by putting a crown on his head and saying, "It's good to be King" did not play well with the public and the ad was pulled. We can't verify that, but the fact that Martinez and the Republican Governors Association spent $1 million in negative TV ads to finish off King but couldn't tells us that New Mexicans may be ready for a more serious dialogue.

In that light, Heinrich's timing on supporting the early childhood amendment may have been right on the money.

And if she's re-elected, Martinez may find a public much less patient with her permanent campaign and looking for points on the board.

THE POWERHOUSE MODEL

Domenici 
With the departure of political powerhouses like GOP Senator Pete Domenici, Dem Guv Big Bill and ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, observers have been looking at Heinrich to see if he is cut from similar cloth. His move on the early childhood amendment positions him at the head of the class in addressing the social conditions debacle. It is a center-left move in a state where the Democratic Party has been veering center-right--and losing. (Sen. Udall and ABQ Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham have not taken a position on the amendment).

Unlike much of his in-state party brethren Heinrich has not backed down in the face of the Martinez political machine. As we reported back in July, he came with this critique in a fund-raising letter on behalf of Gary King:

. . . A common question I get asked is: “Are you happy with the job Governor Martinez is doing?” And I’m going to be honest – I am not happy at all. In fact, I’ve come to conclude that the Martinez Administration is anti-economic growth. Time and again, she’s turned her back on opportunities to capitalize on our state’s private sector potential. . .

Heinrich is a freshman Senator only two years into his term and not up for re-election until 2018. Still, the future arrives fast. His push into the chief social issues will make a primary challenge from a Hispanic Democrat less likely and it also puts Martinez and her machine on notice that he will take them on--if she and they are still around then.

Ultimately, it is about leadership. Domenici, Richardson, Chavez and before them Senators Dennis Chavez and Clinton Anderson cast decades-long shadows across the state and city. Some of them could be said to have had "machines" of their own. Heinrich is currently the only active Democratic state politician showing any potential to do the same. His successful dive into the Sun Zia transmission line controversy and now his declaration for the early childhood amendment separates him from his risk-averse contemporaries.

It's too early to tell where Heinrich is going. At 42, maybe he isn't quite sure himself. His interest in the powerhouse model may or may not excite him. His occasional flexing of muscle occurs as the state drifts along in an era of minimalist leadership making the moves stand out. That will raise hope in some quarters and fear in others. This is a slow playing poker game that is best described by that old cliche, "Time will tell."

POVERTY OF IDEAS

Jim McClure is a conservative reader who does not support the early childhood amendment. He comes with this:

Part of the problem is a poverty of ideas. Gov. Martinez’s efforts have chipped at the edges of the problem by emulating some of the factors of successful states. She’s made the tax and regulatory structure a little more business-friendly, although the legislature blocked worker’s comp reform, and is making a bumbling start on education reform. But there’s not much proactive work going on and the state economic development department is largely AWOL. It’s been a halfway effort: We’re still uncompetitive with other states and have failed to aggressively promote what we have.

But I’m not hearing any ideas from the Democrats, either. Gary King’s platform consists largely of rolling back education reform and sticking it to large companies: hardly a formula for attracting private employers. I could support a plan to loosen the purse strings for some infrastructure projects, but all King proposes is to plow more tax dollars into unaccountable school systems. His only plan to create new jobs is to launch an early education program--which will employ a bunch of adults whether or not it helps the kids.

I am not seeing any proposals from either party to capitalize on tourism, leverage the recreation potential of our new national monuments, partner with employers on workforce development programs or put the state on the list of best places to retire. What we most need is to attract new residents to New Mexico, either as employees or retirees. And some new politicians.

AT THE MOVIES

With  holiday weekend here, reader Eric Lucero is at the movies. ABQ show times here:

Calvary ( R ) ****1/2 “Agatha Christie channels Edgar Allen Poe…a lot is going on here…picturesque…Brendan Gleeson’s performance is his best.”

Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13) **** “…This century’s "Star Wars.”

When the Game Stands Tall (PG-13) **** “…Inspirational, exceptional, and a moral commentary…”

Boyhood ( R ) **** "Unique technique…using same actor from adolescent to cusp of manhood…gritty, realistic portray of life.”

The Hundred Foot Journey (PG-13) ***1/2, “Helen Mirren delivers…supported by a wonderful international cast.”

Saints & Soldiers: The Void (PG-13)(2012) *** “Tries to portray racial conflict amid tank battles vying for control of Berlin at close of WWII…a potent warm up for Pitt’s epic Fury (2014).”

Magic in the Moonlight (PG-13) *** “As always, Woody Allen's comedic wit is an acquired taste…Colin Firth’s fine performance augments, but can’t carry…”

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13) ***“…With the advent of Ebola, this re-booted franchise is topical, but far too preachy.”

Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the holiday. 

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