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Thursday, November 12, 2020

DC Angling: Ben Ray Already Making Leadership Play, Cabinet Guessing Game Goes On And Another NM Political First  

Senator-elect Lujan 
The DC angling by New Mexico politicos remains in high gear with Senator-elect Ben Ray Lujan wasting no time in working to climb the Senate leadership ladder just as he did in the House. 

Lujan is letting it be known he's interested in becoming the new head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) is finishing her term there. Lujan held a similar position while a congressman, leading the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in the '18 cycle and overseeing an increase in Dem House members. 

Lujan has turned out to be a natural in forming political relationships, much like his late father NM House Speaker Ben Ray Lujan. In the recent campaign he was knocked as a major DC player who did not deliver enough for the state. There was a bit of truth in that and it stung. Now he will have six years to balance the DC power game with delivering desperately needed dollars to federally-dependent New Mexico. 

The 48 year old Lujan is playing the long game, knowing that no incumbent Senator has been defeated in NM since 1982. With Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer nearing 70 and Whip Dick Durbin near 76, the Dem leadership is likely to change a decade out. Remember, Lujan parlayed his stint at the DCCC into Assistant House Speaker, the number #4 position in the House. 

GUESSING GAME

MLG as Sec. of Interior? The guessing game is going over-the-top as to who Biden will tap for his cabinet. Until the NYT mentioned her for Interior the NM Governor has been pinpointed mainly for the Health and Human Services slot. That's still the most likely. 

The Times also mentions Montana Gov. Steve Bullock as an Interior possible, along with three other New Mexicans--Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and ABQ Rep. Deb Haaland. 

Native Americans are pushing for one of their own at Interior. It would be a first. Perhaps mindful of that, Udall's office comes with a list of accomplishments he's had in Indian County during his long political tenure. He is currently Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. 

SANTA FE JOCKEYING

More pot boiling speculation in Santa Fe as the bureaucracy ponders the possible elevation of Lt. Governor Howie Morales to the governorship, if MLG scores a cabinet post. We get this mischief making note from inside the education department: 

Joe there is an active campaign at the Public Education Department by two deputy secretaries, Kata Sandoval and Gwen Perea Warniment to move Gwen into the Secretary of Education position. She has talked to superintendents about this, as well as several staff at PED. There is little interest in this move internally. If the Governor is tapped for the Biden administration and Howie becomes Governor she has asked that he tap her as the new secretary.

Well, check that as rumor but multiply it by a factor of 100 if Morales does ascend to the governorship. Meantime, Deputy Sec. Perea Warniment checks in to say that she has no interest in becoming Sec. of Education. "I definitely do not want to be Secretary and am not angling to become Secretary." She said. Got that rumor mill? 

ANOTHER FIRST

DA-elect Byers
Every time you think there are no more firsts to be had in a very diverse La Politica, you're surprised. Here's another--the election of the state's first Black District Attorney:

Doña Ana County has a new district attorney who is ready to hit the ground running. Though Gerald Byers, 62. . .  said he doesn't want to sound presumptuous about not having an opponent but is pleased with the outcome. "I think that everybody will be able to work together for that ever-elusive goal of total justice in society, because people expect it and people deserve it. . ."

This is an historic win. Byers said he is the first African American district attorney to be elected in the state of New Mexico. Henry Valdez, director of New Mexico's Administrative Office of District Attorneys, said he isn't aware of any other African American individual in the state who has held the office. 

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Taking Her Seat: State's Soon-To-Be New Congresswoman Is All Smiles Amid Redistricting Threats As Speaker Egolf Walks Back Comments 

Rep.-elect Yvette Herrell
If Rep.-elect Yvette Herrell is worried about the threat from House Speaker Brian Egolf to essentially redistrict her out of existence, she isn't showing it. 

Appearing on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning, Herrell was confident, poised and all smiles.  Winning has a way of doing that. (Video here.)

And win she did, trouncing Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small by the unexpectedly large margin of 54 to 46 in the southern congressional district race that was billed as a toss-up but ended in a near blow-out.

Analysts continue to ponder the considerable victory. Herrell has some theories of her own, telling the national TV audience that President Trump's strong showing was key, pointing out that he had won the conservative district by 10 points in 2016. He is thought to have carried it at least by that much, if not more this time. Final figures are not yet available. 

Herrell also attributed "the oil and gas situation that is such a huge part of New Mexico" for part of her winning margin. In the final presidential TV debate VP Biden made anti-fracking comments that appeared to further inflame the oil counties of Chaves, Eddy and Lea, providing even more Trump/Herrell votes.

In 2018 when Herrell lost to Torres Small she was unable to score the easy landslide wins and solid turnout that are expected of a GOP candidates in the oil counties. That was not the case in 2020. For example, in Lea she pulled 78 percent of the vote.

OFF TO DC

Now it's off to DC for the 56 year old member of the Cherokee Nation. What committees will she serve on? That's to be decided but her campaign says Energy, Agriculture, Armed Services and Natural Resources are all natural fits for the sprawling district that is home to military bases, oil fields and dairy farms. Outoing Rep. Torres Small sits on Armed Services, Homeland Security and Agriculture. 

As for Trump, who Herrell publicly leaned on for her primary win but less so in her victory last Tuesday, she has come with this statement to supporters:

 I continue to stand with President Trump and fully support his efforts to ensure that the votes being counted are legal. I participated in an update call with the Trump campaign and patriots from around the Nation. There are several ways we can all continue to have President Trump's back -- just like he's had ours for the last four years: - Donate to President Trump's official Election Defense Fund and report any instances of possible voter fraud or irregularities

The message seemed more pro forma than heartfelt and a Republican Alligator familiar with the congresswoman-elect's thinking said our read is correct. After all, if there was widespread election fraud it could raise questions about Herrell's clean win. Also, she has been criticized for implying that the 2018 US House election was stolen from her. Not subjects she needs hanging over her head now.

It appears Trump will be a large presence in the GOP in the years ahead and he could be a significant fund-raiser for his favored candidates. In Herrell's case that could come in handy as GOP legal fees could mount in fighting the Democratic Legislature's attempt to redistrict the seat away from her. 

EGOLF'S ERROR

Speaker Egolf
The redistricting comments were a rare error for the crafty Speaker Egolf. But he was agile enough to walk back his initial statement, saying:

I in no way intended or meant to imply that that district is being singled out as a result of the outcome of an election. Going forward, this is not a Left or Right issue. New Mexico has undergone significant demographic changes over the last ten years and the 2020 Census will give us a better snapshot as to where in our state New Mexicans call home. Redistricting will reflect those changes and will be conducted in a fair, open, and transparent process.

We told the Speaker earlier this year that if an incumbent Republican holds the southern seat redistricting them out in 2021 would be more difficult than if a Dem held it. We didn't know our prediction would come true so quickly. 

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Still Another Big Foot To Drop In Post-Election New Mexico; Key Senate Leadership Post On The Line, Plus: Covid Politics 

Sen. Campos
Besides the possibility of MLG being named to the Biden cabinet, there's another big foot to drop in post-election New Mexico--the selection of a state Senate President Pro Tem who will set the tone for the next Legislature by controlling all-important committee assignments.

The race is a doozy with at least five Democratic Senators said to be in the running and with all 26 Dems set to caucus November 21 to make their choice. 

The Pro Tem is selected by the entire Senate. Despite holding a majority in the chamber, the Democrats have been unable to advance one of their own to the powerful post since 2009 without GOP involvement.  That’s when conservative Dem Senator Tim Jennings formed a coalition with minority Senate Republicans to win the position. After he left, Mary Kay Papen became the coalition's champion. She and other conservative leaning Dems were defeated in the June primary, Now, for the first time in over a decade, it is highly likely that the coalition as a formal entity is dead and that the senator chosen by the Senate Dem caucus will be the next Pro Tem without Republican help. 

Sen. Pete Campos was the Dem caucus choice in 2012 when Sen. Papen took it from him with the help of the R's. Campos is now the longest serving Senator (first elected in 1990) and is again campaigning for Pro Tem. He's joined in the race by the oldest Dem Senator--78 year old Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Senators Ivey-Soto, Lopez and Stewart.

One possible deal floating is intriguing and may be the best way forward for the Democrats as they unwind the coalition. It would have Campos selected as Pro Tem and place Ortiz y Pino in the chairmanship of the most powerful committee of them all--Senate Finance. Or it could have those positions reversed. 

Sen. Ortiz y Pino
The reasoning being that the Senate would move left but not in a jarring way and that Campos and Pino provide stable and mature faces to the voting public as well as institutional knowledge and the smarts to do the jobs. (Pino is a former member of Senate Finance.)

Some Dems might invoke identity politics and demand that a woman be Pro Tem, but a woman has already had the post so there's no first to be had there. Sen. Mimi Stewart is already in leadership as majority whip and could be kept there. Sen. Linda Lopez would remain chair of the powerful Rules Committee..

Pino on Senate Finance would be a huge win for progressives seeking to rebuke the fiscal austerity that has enveloped the capitol this past decade and Campos' appointment would calm the waters with R's, moderate Dems and the business community. 

Campos would have to swear off any intention of playing footsie with the GOP and Pino would have to be willing to make the move to Finance and give up his Pro Tem dreams but it's a compromise that breaks through the chaos of a crowded contest and that calmly places New Mexico on a new political path. 

COVID POLITICS

The explosion in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths could mean further state restrictions.  We predicted last week that such restrictions could be met with sterner opposition in the south where Trump and the R's scored big on Election Night. We said in the absence of a general shutdown or something similar, it will be up to the state to increase its virus fighting efforts. That brings this reaction from an administration spokesman: 

The state is doing exactly what you describe as necessary (targeting hotspot businessestargeted closures, a “crackdown” rather than a “shutdown” – and adding contact tracers and dramatically expanding testing where the virus is spreading worst, in GOP counties and in the south broadly) – so we have done exactly that. Of course we haven’t seen the results we want yet – the state is doing what it can, and will continue 24/7, but New Mexicans need to buckle down too. . . The onus is not only on the state but on the political party that is proudly pro-virus and doesn’t care how many New Mexicans are getting sick, how full our hospitals are, or how many New Mexicans die – more and more every week. . I know you are writing from the perspective of the reality (which I don’t disagree with) that Trump people are going to be emboldened by their election results, We all recognize that reality. But this isn’t just political. 

Well, it's a real stretch to claim the opposition party to the administration doesn’t care how many people die from Covid. And is anyone anywhere “pro-virus?” 

MLG is expected to offer an update this week on any further state action. 

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Monday, November 09, 2020

Biden Clinches Presidency Now The NM Waiting Game Begins: Two Cabinet Posts Seen As Possibly Going To State  

Joe Biden has clinched the presidency and now a high-stakes New Mexico waiting game intensifies. Since summer, speculation has been rampant that Gov. Lujan Grisham could be tapped as Secretary of Health and Human Services in a Biden cabinet, making Lt. Governor Howie Morales the state's 33rd Governor. With Biden taking over the White House, that speculation is now more grounded in reality and so is the talk about retiring NM Dem US Senator Tom Udall being named Secretary of Interior.  

It's unusual for New Mexico to be mentioned for one cabinet post never mind two. Is that one too many? We'll soon find out, but for now both MLG and Udall top the list for their rumored cabinet slots, according to various national media. 

Axios points to MLG's Hispanic background as key to her possible appointment: 

After Joe Biden whiffed with Hispanic voters in some states, Democrats are urging the president-elect to nominate several Latinos to high-profile Cabinet positions.  Among those in contention: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for Homeland Security, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for Health and Human Services, and Rep. Filemon Vela for Commerce or Transportation. Becerra and Grisham have quietly conveyed their interest to Biden’s team. 

What's new there is that MLG "conveyed" her interest to the Biden team personally. That's a step up from a NYT report several months ago that said people close to her were letting it be known she was interested in joining the cabinet.

MLG is a co-chair of the Biden transition team and her Chief of Staff John Bingaman is taking a leave of absence to help with the transition. That's quite high on the poltical food chain.

Politico also reports Lujan Grisham is a top possible for HHS and that Sen. Udall for Interior is a good bet: 

. . . Udall of New Mexico is the top contender to be secretary of Interior. His father, Stewart Udall, was Interior secretary from 1961 to 1969 and is credited with a major expansion in federal land protection, including the creation of dozens of wildlife refuges, national parks and recreation areas. Udall, who says conservation is in his DNA, has laid out plans to enlist federal lands in the fight against climate change and has driven efforts to block drilling near the sandstone mesas and ruins of northwest New Mexico’s Greater Chaco region.

Udall is a liberal but getting Senate confirmation is seen as a plus for him, even if the R's continue to control the chamber. MLG is seen as a centrist--not a progressive--thus her confirmation chances are also seen as good in a GOP Senate, barring any unexpected surprises. 

Dem Senator Maritn Heinrich has also been mentioned a possible Interior pick, but not with as much  emphasis as Udall. Heinrich, who has been living in Maryland, recently registered his kids with ABQ Public Schools and is said to be quietly eying a possible run for the 2022 Dem nomination for Governor, if Lt. Morales ends up in the Governor's chair. Attorney General Balderas is doing the same. 

If history is a guide Biden will fill out his cabinet by mid-December. Meantime, the waiting room to watch this waiting game is overflowing with interested onlookers. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

Just how popular was early voting in Tuesday's election? This popular: 90 percent of Bernalillo County's vote was cast early. The total turnout was 319,510 with 141,340 absentee ballots and 145,289 in person early votes. Only 32,881 BernCo voters went to the polls on the actual Election Day. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

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