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Monday, March 20, 2017

Winners And Losers From The 2017 New Mexico Legislative Session  

Sen. Ingle
While we wait for the Governor to announce the date for the special session, let's take a look at our annual winners and losers list from the just completed regular 60 day legislative session:

Winner: The big winner of this legislative session was. . drum roll please. . .that wily Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle. In quite the under reported story, Ingle agreed to the lean $6.1 billion state budget sent to Martinez by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. And he brought along many of his colleagues as the budget won approval 38-8. That budget, which the Governor is rejecting, includes a number of tax increases, including a ten cent a gallon tax on gasoline. Ingle is a conservative R. The difference between him and the radical Republicans in the House is his belief in governing flexibly.

There are times (as rare as they may be in Ingle's view) but there are times when the state needs to raise some revenue. This is one of those times. Sometimes you cut 'em and sometimes you raise 'em. That's how it used to be when New Mexico was working. Now Ingle will need to continue to take a stand against gubernatorial unreasonableness as we enter a special session. It's not like the 30 year legislative veteran hasn't done that before.

WINNER: You would expect a Democrat to move to override the veto of a Republican Governor. But Rio Rancho Republican state Senator Craig Brandt surprised nearly everyone when he refused to back down and moved forward with a successful Senate override of Gov. Martinez's veto of a teacher sick leave bill (the override failed in the House). Brandt managed to get half the GOP senators to go along with him, as Martinez's sway over the freshly elected Senators was put to the test as she nears the end of her term. Still, it took guts to stand up to Martinez whose political machine has set  records for payback and vindictiveness. Will Brandt use his success with the override to take a more prominent position in the Republican Party in the post-Martinez era? We'll see.

WINNER: The payday loan industry may have looked like they got the short-end of a compromise that took the top interest rate they can charge from 375% to 175%. But considering that in other states the high rate is 35 percent this was a shrewd play for the payday loan industry, with some calling it a legislative embarrassment. It sure had the well-paid payday lobbyists smiling all they way to the bank where the interest rates for a loan is more like 3 or 4 percent.

WINNER: Ethics advocates scored an overdue victory when he Legislature finally relented and agreed to ask voters to approve a state ethics commission at the '18 election. Whether it was as "historic" as they claimed was open to debate. Much of the details will be filled in after the voters approve the amendment which they are expected to do. That gives opposition lawmakers plenty of time to work out sabotage plans.  Still, the fact that the word ethics is on its way to being in the state Constitution is a win.

WINNER: Yet another GOP Senator entered the winner's circle when the Governor's political guru, Jay McCleskey, sounded off against him and got a pointed response. ABQ GOP Senator Sander Rue sponsored a bill that would shine more light on the Governor's contingency fund that she uses for parties and the like. That soured Advance NM Now, the PAC run by McCleskey, which accused Rue of sponsoring the bill because Martinez had vetoed a measure that would have allowed Rue and other lawmakers who did not sign up in time for the legislative pension system to still get  pensions. Rue's comeback was a classic:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I do harbor hurt feelings that I was not invited to her ‘pizza party.’ It must have been a heck of a shindig if the police were called out to break it up. By the way, it was paid for from the governor’s contingency fund; SB 27 would require an accounting of how that taxpayer money is spent.”

Lt. Gov. Sanchez
LOSERS: Lt. Gov. Sanchez again did a great job presiding over the state Senate but did nothing--absolutely nothing--to publicly separate himself from an increasingly unpopular Governor who he may try to succeed by seeking the '18 GOP gubernatorial nomination. But as presiding officer of the Senate and in tandem with new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth they made music together. Too bad they can't run for something together.

LOSER: It's darn hard for Gov. Martinez see her relevancy wane but wildly vetoing bills that get near unanimous legislative approval is no way to get back in the game. And now the Supreme Court could rule that the Governor did not properly veto a handful of the bills and they will become law. A lot more could be said on why this was a lousy session for Martinez, including the news that was dropped on her that the state's unemployment rate is now the worst in the nation.

LOSER: Keith Gardner, the Governor's chief of staff, is now looking like Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer. If Martinez appeared naked in public but insisted she was wearing clothes, you could count on Keith to swear to it. There's a difference between loyalty and unquestioning servitude. There's probably a number of fires Gardner put out behind the scenes that he will never get credit for, but being unable to bring Martinez to the table on the budget--which was so close--will go down as one of his big failings. Maybe he can reverse it in the upcoming special.

LOSER: It wasn't much of a budget cut but it was a cut and could foreshadow even more of them down the road. Contained in the budget sent to Martinez was a one percent cut across the board for higher education. The public schools managed to escape with no cuts and a flat budget. They have public support but the universities are still fair target practice for revenue starved lawmakers. If things don't improve, they could be in for some more.

LOSER: The Legislature took heat in this corner and elsewhere for wasting time talking about making the green chile cheeseburger the state's official burger as well as adopting an official state song. There's a time and place for that stuff but with the condition of the state today, it was imply the wrong optic. And so there it sits on the loser list: the New Mexico Green Chile Hamburger. Now you know we're in trouble.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017
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