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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Silent Speaker Departs; Don Tripp And The Republicans Lost Opportunity, Plus: Susana And "Noodles" 

Speaker Tripp (Moore, Journal)
New Mexico House Speaker Don Tripp is the kind of guy who often gets it right when he decides to take action. His problem and what has led to the end of his political career is his inability to act.

Tripp, 70, has announced he is leaving the Legislature in January now that the Democrats have regained control of the chamber after a two year return to power by the R's. That brief stint will be noted in the history books with an asterisk, much as it was the last time the GOP held control of the House for a two year run in 1953-54. Of course, there's a big difference between now and then.

In the early 50's New Mexico was growing so fast the roadrunners could barely keep up. The national labs were booming and the economy was expanding. Given that unstoppable momentum provided by Federal largess, control of the legislature in 1952 was a sidebar.

But when Tripp of Socorro was named speaker in 2015 the state faced an existential crisis brought about by the worst economy since the Great Depression. It was and is an enormous mountain the state faces. One can understand why Tripp failed to try to climb it, but it still must be recorded as a failure.

When the Republican Governor and her political adviser offered him the easy way out by drowning the economic crisis in an all-crime-all-the-time debate, Tripp took it. The legislature devolved into a meaningless partisan food fight designed solely to influence the next election campaign. Meantime, the economic indicators continued into the cellar. Even former NM GOP Chairman Harvey Yates lamented the lost opportunity when earlier this year he ousted the state's Governor-supported Republican National Committeeman.

Speaker Tripp and the Republicans lost the state House in 2016 for much the same reason the Democrats lost it to the R's in 2014--they gave the economy lip service while catering to their donor base.

The state's political class continue to fritter away the public power bestowed upon them, unable or unwilling to confront the aforementioned economic mountain that looms ever larger. They look at it, they circle it and they study it, but like Don Tripp very few dare climb it.

SUSANA AND NOODLES

We all know how governors of this state love to meddle in the affairs of the University of New Mexico. Another example of that surfaces from national political writer Daniel Libit who also writes of local sports on his website. It's about the relationship between Gov. Martinez and UNM basketball coach Craig "Noodles" Neal:

According to sources, Martinez’s camp had not taken kindly to (then-Lobo basketball coach Steve) Alford, who was notoriously aloof when it came to the work of civic back-scratching. Neal, on the other hand, was keen to mingle. “Coach Neal was the more social guy and would say ‘hi’ to the governor, and would talk to (her) when he was an assistant coach, and they started this relationship,” said a source close to the situation. 

When Alford left, the source said, Martinez “pushed hard” for Neal’s hire. (Martinez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.) Indeed, the governor sounded positively starstruck when speaking publicly about her relationship with Neal. . .  “It’s like having your next door neighbor over. It’s just so not pretentious – just normal conversations. Just an easygoing guy. We sat down we ate, we talked, we laughed. In my mind, I forgot I was sitting with the head coach of the UNM basketball team.” 

Given all the disharmony that has come to define the current relationship between UNM and the governor’s administration, sources say it has greatly redounded to the basketball coach’s benefit that Martinez is so enamored with him.

In 2013 Libit authored a groundbreaking piece on the Martinez administration for the National Journal. As for Neal he has been given a sweetheart deal that does not expire until 2020.

Now the traditional drumbeat for a new coach is starting to be heard from the perennially disappointed fan base which for decades has placed unrealistic expectations on all basketball coaches. But approving a huge buyout to get rid of Neal amid a state budget crisis doesn't seem to be a lay up.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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