Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Political Backdrop To The Special Session: Dems Have High Cards As R's Work Overtime To Alter Perceptions: Guv's Low Approval Rating And Trump Troubles Also Factors 

There seems to be some confusion regarding the political backdrop that faces the New Mexico Legislature as it prepares to gavel itself into a special session Wednesday. Let's see if we can clear it up by beginning with a faulty premise that is blocking an easy resolution to achieving a state budget. That premise is presented by ABQ GOP State Rep. Jimmie Hall:

If you want to play chicken, I don’t think (the governor) is going to blink. I don’t think the Democrats want to be the ones to shut state government down.

The "game of chicken," of course, is over Martinez's insistence that an overhaul of the state's gross receipts tax structure be approved as the price for agreeing to a state budget with the Democrats.

The problem that Representative Hall and other radical House Republicans don't recognize--or prefer not to--is that the political cost of failure at this special session would rest with them and the Republican Governor, not the Democrats. Why?

First, for some reason it's rarely referenced in legislative reporting but it's a crucial fact. Governor Martinez's approval rating is at an anemic 43 percent and perhaps lower considering the chaos in the wake of the recent legislative session. She is deeply under water with New Mexican voters and has lost the power of the bully pulpit, a key element for any Governor's success.

Second, the Republicans failed in their effort to keep control of the state House at last November's election. It sounds obvious, but many legislative R's and the Fourth Floor are acting as if it didn't happen.

Third, the GOP is saddled with a President whose unpopularity has Democrats salivating over the prospect of using him to leverage further gains in the state House next year.

Fourth, the reality is that the Republicans do not have one major candidate on the field for their 2018 gubernatorial nomination, signaling a party in retreat and on the defense.

Fifth, Gov. Martinez's petulant veto of the entire higher education budget further injured her popularity and has forced her to the negotiating table. The Democrats sat back and waited and did so without panicking. She did not come with an acceptable plan but it was she who blinked when the Democrats refused to offer a replacement plan for the one she vetoed.

Given these realities the Democratic position of resisting a hasty overhaul of the state's gross receipts structure is not only the most rational policy but their most politically feasible path.


Sen. Sharer
State Senate Republicans long ago saw the light and one of them, Farmington Senator Bill Sharer, has even offered a fig leaf to the Governor in which the legislature would agree to a 90 day study of the tax overhaul. It's important to remember that Sharer is the Godfather of the current movement to rid the state of its many tax exemptions and lower the state GRT down to 2 percent. He was at this in 2013, long before Rep. Jason Harper who has taken the role of Governor's pet and joins her in insisting that the tax overhaul must be approved before the state's thousands of college students can receive an education.

It is that unreasonableness that gave majority Democrats in the Senate the needed Republican votes to override the Governor's veto of higher ed funding and which they did. The House R's would not go along and here we are.

Representatives Hall and Harper et al. fail to grasp the fundamental political change that has occurred. At this juncture the state, suffering from the highest unemployment rate in America, is not clamoring for more tax cuts or tax overhauls but simply to keep open the doors of the universities and colleges and to keep government funding flowing, even if it is at levels comparable to what they were in the budget of a decade ago.

Perhaps the past weakness of the Democrats in challenging Martinez has led them and their allies in the conservative media to pretend that nothing has changed--the old "perception is reality" argument.

Also, Hall, Harper and the other Republicans radicalized on economic matters still seem hypnotized by this lame duck Governor and Jay McCleskey, her political consultant, who they fear and swear allegiance to. It's like hostages who have become comfortable with their captivity even as the doors of freedom have been opened to them.

But the page has indeed turned and the parade is moving on. To reiterate: Senate Democrats have just won four year terms. They have nothing to fear. The House is firmly Democratic again. The House Republican agenda has been rejected and the public has tired of the Republican chief executive.

Democrats have the high cards and it is their responsibility to play them as directed by the electorate. That means resisting any efforts to blackmail them into approving a minority Republican agenda by holding hostage the state's higher education system. It is incumbent upon them to make the minority "blink" and if they don't to ensure they assume the blame if Rep. Hall's forecast of a government shutdown comes to fruition,


The state GOP is joining in the effort to try to redefine the current political realities by sending a missive urging New Mexicans to contact a list of Democrats in swing House districts to either sign up for the Republicans budget or face the consequences.

Democrats in Santa Fe has (sic) proved once again that they are out of touch with the needs of New Mexicans. They have proposed a "business as usual" budget that protects their bloated and over-funded legislative retirement accounts but slashes education funding. Please call these legislators to tell them that you mean business and that if they don’t vote for the House Republican budget we will SEND THEM PACKING!

That brought a chuckle from the Alligators and insiders who are more than aware that it is actually the top R in the state House--Minority Leader Rep. Nate Gentry--rather than any Democrats--who could be most imperiled by a government shutdown. His ABQ NE Heights district is turning increasingly moderate.

But let's not forget "The Nate Nine," identified here as possible swing House R votes to get a budget quickly and forget about the Martinez/Harper GRT deal. The Nate Nine are from the ABQ metro with the exception of Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo. The others are: Gentry, Reps. Dines, Larranaga, Fajardo, Rehm, Powdrell, Tim Lewis and Maestas-Barnes. They've shown signs of moderation and independence from the Governor's political machine.

Rep. Candie Sweetser of Deming was one of the swing seat Dems targeted in that GOP email but it didn't take. She authored an op-ed sticking by the Democratic plan to pass a budget and approve only a study of the tax overhaul. We suspect it will be her view that will have prevailed when the special session packs up and leaves town.


How about we take a stab at settling that brouhaha over how much the new mayor of Santa Fe should be paid? The top salary proposed is the way-too-high $175,000 plus benefits. On the low side is the proposed $74,000. The midway point between the two is $101,000. How's that sound? Aah, if it only it were that easy.

Speaking of salaries, here are the latest for some of the highest paid at ABQ's city hall:

--Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, paid $92.29 an hour or $191,963.20 a year.

--APD Chief Gordon Eden, paid $81.00 an hour or $168,480 a year.

--BioPark Chief Executive Officer James Allen, paid $77.48 an hour or $161,158.40 a year.

--Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan, paid $73.53 an hour or $152,942.40 a year.

--City Attorney Jessica M. Hernandez, paid $72.99 an hour or $151,819.20 a year.

--Fire Chief David W. Downey, paid $64.09 an hour or $134,992 a year.

--Mayor’s Chief of Staff Gilbert A. Montano, paid $61.27 an hour or $127,441 a year.

Now all you Alligators looking for jobs with the new mayor when he or she takes office in December know what kind of pay to ask for. Hey, we're here to serve. . .

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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