Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Martinez Throws Molotov Cocktail Into Special Session As She Calls For Death Penalty Reinstatement Amid Budget Debacle, Plus: Ins And Outs Of Latest Budget Talks, And: Sen. Padilla Vs. Susana; It's Very Nasty 

Well, it won't be boring. That's for sure. Gov. Martinez has thrown a Molotov Cocktail into a planned special legislative budget session by calling on lawmakers to reinstate the death penalty for child and cop killers and corrections officers. As a result, Santa Fe's Roundhouse will soon be filled with fierce and polarizing debate, Machiavellian political maneuvering and the stench of political fear coursing through its fabled corridors.

Facing a fierce battle to maintain GOP control of the state House and a burning desire to increase Republican power in the state Senate, Gov. Martinez threw all caution to the wind and bet her poker hand of two shocking murders of NM policemen and the heinous slaying of 10 year old Victoria Martens. She believes public outrage over them will trump the hand held by the Democrats--an economy in a near death spiral with the nation's second highest unemployment rate and an historic state budget deficit spread out over at least three years that could top $1 billion.

The irony is that the state's economic disintegration under the administration has enabled the crime epidemic which has led to unimaginable acts of violence against children and which Martinez will now attempt  to use to her political benefit.

Former State House Majority Whip Antonio "Moe" Maestas of ABQ reacted this way:

Let’s call this what it really is - a campaign ploy to distract from complete economic failure and the Governor's disastrous CYFD that failed to protect Victoria Martens.

But using wedge issues like repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants helped the R's bolster their base and take the House for the first time in decades in 2014. Now they seek to hold that control for another two years with a divisive and emotionally-laden call for reinstatement of the death penalty.

It's emotional and not practical because it has no chance of passing after being repealed in 2009. The Catholic Church, instrumental in that repeal, went on high alert in the aftermath of Martinez's announcement with the NM Conference of Bishops saying:

It is evident that the Governor has chosen to use the deaths of police officers and children to drive a politically-motivated action to place the death penalty on a very short special session purely for the purpose of politics and campaign jockeying. We call on the Governor to recant her call for placing this on the agenda of the special session. We also call on the legislators to reject this proposed agenda item in the special session.


Most of of our Alligators agreed that the Martinez death penalty play would have the most impact with GOP base voters who strongly favor it as well as conservative independents. Both groups could be encouraged to get to the polls in November when the inevitable happens and the penalty is rejected. Turnout in a presidential election year skews more Democratic. Increasing GOP and conservative independent turnout a couple of points in the key swing districts could determine control of the state House where the R majority is currently 37 to 33.

Then there is the case of Senate Majority Leader Sanchez and Martinez's intense dislike (hatred?) for him. It will be Sanchez who will have to do the gritty work and kill the death penalty in the Senate. It is expected to quickly and easily pass the House. With that done, Martinez and her political adviser Jay McCleskey can go to work on Sanchez's re-election bid in Valencia County where he faces opponent Greg Baca.

The cost of the unsuccessful Martinez effort to take Sanchez out in 2012 went over $1 million and it appears it will be as much, if not more, this time. Getting rid of Sanchez would be the ultimate political scalp for Martinez and help ease the many self-inflicted wounds that have plunged her approval ratings into the low 40's (although an Internet outlier poll released Tuesday claimed she was at 50% approval).


The secret talks among top legislators and the administration aren't so secret to our Alligator sand Wall-Leaners. They fill us in. . .

It is State Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith who is the lead negotiator with the Martinez administration as they try to strike a deal to close two years of  budget deficits. The one left over for the year that ended June 30 is put at $131 or $220 million, depending on which news account you are reading.

There is some good news on that front for those opposed to raiding the Tobacco Settlement Fund of over $200 million to resolve that deficit. Our insiders say a deal is brewing where some $80 million or more of unspent capital outlay funds would be used to close last year's budget hole. So what about using the tobacco fund to close the current year's deficit? Not so fast. The bean counters warn that the state could risk a lawsuit by using that money for other than its intended purpose of anti-tobacco education.

The deficit for the current budget year that began July 1 is put at $431 million and could go higher or lower. The total budget is $6.2 billion.

As Martinez  continues to resist tax increases or closing tax loopholes at the talks,  speculation is  growing that her end game is laying off a large number of state employees. Already nine workers from the Tourism Department have felt the axe. Polling probably shows little sympathy for public employees so Martinez is positioned to take any heat--but not until after the election.

We're talking huge amount of dollars and if Martinez does not find a way to come to the table she eventually risks splitting her Republican caucus. Will they stand by if the layoffs reach into the hundreds? What about the business community and the conservative newspaper? Are they comfortable that the special session is now going to be consumed in good measure by criminal justice and not the ailing state budget and its emptied reserves?

Those questions will likely await the post-special days. Faced with gridlock with the Governor, lawmakers may opt to fix last year's mess (which they must by law) but leave the mammoth current year deficit to the January session. That will give them much less time to resolve it but in the middle of the political season and with few of them wanting to touch anything remotely looking like a tax increase, off they will go to campaign.


Sen. Padilla
The nasty days of Campaign '16 are surely upon us as the always combative language of the Martinez administration grows even nastier. For example, when ABQ State Senator and Majority Whip Michael Padilla proposed that Attorney General Balderas form a nonpartisan committee to investigate the CYFD's handling of the notorious murder and dismemberment of 10 year old Victoria Martens, CYFD let the vitriol rip:

It’s unfortunate that Michael Padilla is playing partisan politics with this tragedy. Frankly, Michael Padilla lost all credibility after multiple women filed sexual harassment suits against him and won, forcing taxpayers to shell out more than $250,000 for his bad behavior. Among other allegations, the city found that he pestered female employees to go on dates with him and said women should stay at home, “make tortillas,” and “clean the house.” We take every child abuse case seriously, but we don’t take the political grandstanding of a discredited politician seriously.

Not to be outdone, an ally of Padilla's released the attack dogs on the Governor:

Discredited politician? Martinez should know something about that, having been in a drunken stupor at her Christmas party where staffers were throwing liquor bottles from the balcony of a swank hotel. The slurring Governor then berated the hotel workers and police who were called in to try to quiet them down. Yes, Susana Martinez knows something about being a discredited politician.  The Governor needs to lay off the liquor and quit laying the blame for her failures on those trying to reverse them.

And there's still a month and a half to go, folks.


The ABQ Free Press is doubling down. Dan Vukelich, editor of the alternative bi-weekly paper which we write for, says the paper is going weekly with its September 28th edition. And he says there will be a change of tone along with the change of schedule:

When it comes to local news, we will remain the hard-hitting paper we are known for, but we will be more of an open tent as we cover the arts and entertainment world and other topics more fully. We are broadening our reach, highlighting more aspects of our city and recognizing the positive along with the negative.

Vukelich, a former reporter for the ABQ Tribune, also says the Free Press has snagged high-powered sales rep Sarah Bonneau, former sales director for the weekly Alibi.

The Free Press was brought to life two years ago with funding from ABQ personal injury attorney Will Ferguson who remains co-publisher with Vukelich and continues to support the venture.

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