Thursday, April 27, 2006

Soaring Gas & NM Scandals Are Backdrop For High Drama; Domenici's "B.S. Meter" Hits Red; He Tears Into Big Oil; And: Madrid Moves To Sever Serna 

NM Republican U.S. Senator Pete Domenici taking on Big Oil? Patsy Madrid going after fellow Dem Eric Serna? Rarely do we see a simultaneous shake-up of the state and national political landscapes, but claims of looting at the gas pumps and in the government in Santa Fe have realigned interests in a fascinating, if not bizarre fashion.

First Pete. He unleashed an attack on Big Oil that verged on the vitriolic, but it tapped directly into the vein of public outrage as he called for repealing $2 billion in oil company tax breaks, an investigation into possible price gouging and pronounced the political impact of soaring pump prices "absolutely devastating."

"Domenici knows when the public's bullshit meter hits the red zone. That's why he is still a senator. He understands and immediately acts with the public. He's not running for cover; he's leading. His statements capture the sentiment across the political spectrum," said one of my Alligators of the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Of course, Domenci had a tin ear when it came to the Dubai ports deal which also sparked public outrgage, but that one didn't shred the the family budget.

Also, Domenici and NM Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman championed the energy bill giving oil the tax incentives. But the nearly $400 million retirement package for an Exxon oil exec--"outrageous!" raged Domenici--has Pete dumping on his own legislation and making a U-turn that must be leaving the oil oligarchy aghast.

Domenici has been a longtime friend of the industry. Rarely, if ever, has he unloaded on them. KOAT-TV reported last night that since 1989 Domenici has received $580,000 in campaign money from energy interests. Senator Bingaman got $330,000 over the same period. Will Pete's tough talk translate into tough legislation? Let's see.


In contrast to Domenici, Bingaman defended the legislation he and Pete sponsored saying the tax breaks can't be blamed for high pump prices. He did call for a price gouging probe, but the statements from the two senators spotlighted their very different styles.

"Domenici has the core drive, the spirit and the determination to move on the big issues, and right now he may be the liberals' best friend in Congress because it will be the majority R's who have to make the changes," offered our in-the-know Gator on Pete who will turn 74 next month.

He may be the liberals best friend on some of this, but on the senate floor Wednesday he again called for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. The libs will continue to oppose him on that.

The senior senator's comment that the political impact of the energy crisis was "absolutely devastating" gave rise to speculation that he was concerned that ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson could be caught in the cross hairs and gunned down by a revolting electorate. Heck, that's not speculation. You know he is concerned, and so is she.

The price of gas is becoming the symbol for all that has gone wrong on the national scene; the never-ending Iraq war, the corporate, congressional and executive branch scandals; the anxiety over jobs and the health care system and a President unwilling, or unable, to make changes even as the nation turns against him.

The bottom line? When Pete Domenici's "bullshit meter" hits red, stand by. The times they are a changin'.

Back here in River City, the multi-headed monster of state scandals continued to cast a shadow over La Politica. The chief question lately among top-ranking Democrats is when and if state insurance boss Eric Serna will resign.

The news on the Serna front just keeps getting worse with the Santa Fe Reporter now tying stockbroker Guy Riordan to Serna's controversial Con Alma Foundation. Riordan was fingered as a kickback payer by ex-state Treasurer Michael Montoya at the federal corruption trial of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil. Riordan denies the charge. Meantime, attorney general and Dem congressional hopeful Madrid is escalating her investigation of Serna.

Predictions on the Serna front vary, with as many people checking in here who think he will hang tough as those who think he will throw in the towel.

"This is his last chance at the game. He won't quit. He's old school. He knows it is over for him if he does," argued one of my D's.

"For Patsy Madrid this may be the ball game. If she brings down Eric she may be able to get the "weak on corruption charge" off of her back. Eric and her go way back. It is a strange position for her. But this is political survival. She has no choice." Said another watchful Dem.


Will Big Bill try to get Serna to go? Maybe.

"Joe, Eric and Bill are old friends. Remember when Bill was in Congress? Eric promised to never challenge him in a Democratic primary. They have also been tight social friends. Eric is a political liability, but no Democrat wants to be the first to say he must go. With the Vigil trial and other investigations in the works, it is too sensitive for many of them," analyzed the watchful D.

It may be too sensitive for the politicos, but not for the electorate who will stand in judgment of how the scandals finally settle.

"The Serna thing seems like a must win for Madrid. She will have to go all the way with this, to the grand jury, the courtroom, wherever it leads. Her campaign is in place, but because of these scandals it has not built excitement or momentum. If she cannot break loose, the odds are that Heather will win again, despite the chaos nationally," remarked our Dem Gator.

The Domenici and Madrid developments underscore an essential truth of politics. The first order of business for a politician is to survive, and only the strongest do.

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