Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What They Make: Hill Salaries Go Public, And: Poll Sends Big Bill Over Magic 60%, Plus: Lyons Mauls Baca; This Is Ground Zero For New Mexico Politics 

One of the best kept semi-secrets of La Politica is no longer. For years, the pay for the thousands of congressional staffers on Capitol Hill and those based in the states, has been as hard to find as an enchilada in Des Moines, Iowa. So hard to find, in fact, that I spent hours in the dusty confines of the basement of UNM's Zimmerman Library back in February of 05' combing through dense volumes that contained the precious information. It took the company of a Senior Alligator and a sturdy calculator to figure out just what the holders of these often coveted jobs were pulling down and to write a two-part blog. But no more.

A new Web site is up that does the digging for us. You still have to do some math to figure out the annual salary totals because the Congress still won't release annual salaries. That said, the information is much more easily available and spares me another visit on your behalf to the cramped quarters of Zimmerman.

The annual salaries of our U.S. reps and senators are made fully public. They make $165,200 a year. A staffer usually can't exceed that amount, but several serving New Mexico's congressional delegation come close. For example, the chiefs of staff for NM Senators Domenici and Bingaman come in at about $160,000.

And for all you reporters who are crying in your beer or caffeinated Snapples, how about a nice press secretary job with Senator Pete? Chris Gallegos has that job and is now taking in nearly $110,000 a year. But no one, especially the press types who receives Gallegos' flurry of nearly daily press missives, is going to begrudge him for that.

We've come full circle on what we are paying our congressional toilers. When I served on the Hill as communications director for then-Congressman Manuel Lujan (R-NM) in the early 80's, the press was periodically handed the salary of each staffer and promptly printed it in the ABQ newspapers. Manuel was a generous guy, so guess who paid for lunch when I got back home?

But not all of our Congress folk are overly generous. You can figure out who falls in that category by visiting the site. As for me, Zimmerman Library is a great place, but I will keep my future visits to the top level and be glad to keep the basement in my memory bank.


It's not big money that drives most of the congressional staffers; it's the power, or at least being around it. On that score, our Tuesday blog noting that NM Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman ranks 44 out of 100 in the senate "power rankings," one his critics think should be higher, one emailer rises to the defense of the Silver City solon. He says take a look at the power rankings in the "legislation" category. We did and found that Jeffclimbed the ladder significantly. When rated on ability to get his legislation through, Bingaman is #9 out of 100. The power rankings in which he came in 44th also include "influence" and "position."

As for Senator Pete, he ranks #6 in the power rankings and #2 out of 100 in the legislation rankings. Pete #2 and Jeff #9 for little ol' New Mexico? Now you know why half the state seems to be on the federal payroll. Not that we're complaining, senators. In fact, just ignore that comment and go into that committee and vote for more pork. And have a nice day.


One more note from the Bingaman beat. Jeff will indeed become the second longest serving NM U.S. Senator, as we blogged Tuesday, if he wins his fifth term Nov. 7. We told you he would immediately leapfrog over Clinton Anderson. But we did not mention that he would have to serve about three and a half years of his new term before he eclipsed the record of the late great Senator Dennis Chavez. Considering Bingaman is a regular jogger, you can expect him to make it, replacing Chavez on the #2 all-time hit list and also pushing Clint down a notch.


It takes million of campaign dollars to get that congressional salary of $165K and we have more news for you today on that front. Our Alligator tracking the spending of the national Democratic and Republican congressional committees checks in with their buy on KOAT-TV for the hotly contested Wilson-Madrid ABQ U.S. House battle. The D's, he reports, will pour $560,000 on the ABC affiliate for ads on behalf of Madrid that began Tuesday and will continue through Election Day. Meanwhile, the R's are pumping $515,00 into the station. And that's on top of what we reported Tuesday--over a million bucks from the R's on KRQE-KASA and over a half million there for the D's.

Owning a TV station in an election year is like cashing a blank check.


He has hit the magic number in one poll. Can he hold it Election Night? The Rasmussen survey this week has Big Bill pulling 61% of the vote, with his GOP rival, John Dendahl, slipping to 26%. (Poll taken Sep. 7; MOE +-4.5%) The 60% is seen as a barometer for the Guv's Prez hopes. A number below that might give some room to his foes to argue that they are stronger contenders.

Dendahl has slipped from the low 30's in the last Rasmussen taken in late June. His comments accusing NM educators of teaching "socialism," (since retracted) as well as comments regarding Hispanics and DWI laws, could be the reasons for his decline.

In that same poll Senator Bingaman holds the lead over Allen McCulloch, 56% to 32%. Besides whether Richardson reaches 60%, the only other suspense at the top of the ticket thus far is whether Bingaman or Bill will lead the ticket. Hey, we're junkies we've got to have something to keep us interested.


Commissioner Lyons
One race that is starting to pique our interest is the contest for state land commissioner. Nothing like a negative attack to bring attention to a race, and that's just what GOP incumbent land boss Pat Lyons unloaded this week. His 60 second spot, posted here for your delight, calls his opponent, former land commissioner and ABQ mayor Jim Baca, a "catastrophe," and lists a litany of alleged errors Baca has committed in his lengthy public service career. The spot has a dash of comedy, but Baca isn't seeing the humor.

"When people hear that spot they should remember it was paid for by the oil and gas industry." He told me late Tuesday. That was a swipe at Lyons' half million dollar war chest and the heavy energy contributions that helped him get it to that size.

Baca has never shied away from going negative. His Web site dedicated to panning Pat has been up a couple of weeks.

If this one is getting the juices flowing, you can see the two land hopefuls tonight in ABQ at a 7 p.m. forum at First Unitarian Church at 3710 Carlisle NE.

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