Thursday, November 30, 2006

Martinez Camp: No Deal With R's To Claim Speakership, Plus: Lucky Varela Warns Lujan; We Go Inside & Indepth, And: R's Clarify Meeting 

Rep. Martinez
As the drama built and rumors swirled across the inner sanctums of La Politica, the camp of State Rep. Kenny Martinez made it clear he will not attempt to form a coalition with state House Republicans in order to wrest the House speakership away from Ben Lujan.

"There's no circumstance under which he will consider doing that. He wants to win it clean, in the caucus with the Democrats," informed an authoritative source.

What about Speaker Lujan? Would he dare cross party lines and try to retain power by cutting a deal with the R's, something that has been done in New Mexico's storied past?

"If Ben made a serious move in that direction it would be seen as desperation. The first person to cut it short would be the Governor. He is running for President. He would use all his powers to avoid the embarrassment." So said our highly-placed Alligator who added:

"Which Democrats would publicly go along with such a coalition? This vote will be won in the caucus, or before the caucus with one of the candidates throwing in the towel."

For Martinez, talk of a coalition is particularly gruesome because his father, the late and legendary House Speaker Walter Martinez, was dethroned when a coalition of conservative Dems and R's toppled him from power back in 1979. I covered it and we called it the "Cowboy Coalition" as Dems from Little Texas were instrumental in executing the coup.


Talk about fear campaigns. This battle for the second most powerful office in the state is filled with it. Lujan has led with an iron first and has kept his supporters in line with punishment or threats of punishment. House members are freaking out about picking the wrong side and fear the consequences. Even though the December 18 House Dem caucus will feature a secret ballot, somehow word has a way of leaking.

As for Kenny of Grants, his camp is hitting the ethics theme hard, saying there is everything to fear if more bad news comes out about the Speaker's ties to a low income housing authority formerly led by the controversial Smiley Gallegos. They are saying such news cannot be ruled out and would put the House and Lujan under an ethics shadow. The time to change is now, they argue.

In fact, both sides are closely watching ABQ Journal investigative reporter Thom Cole. (Did you hear that clicking on your phone, Thom?) The reason is that he is investigating the housing program that has already snared Speaker Ben and if he hits with another piece that does even more damage, it could tip toward Martinez the 42 Dems who are deciding the speaker battle.

There is simply no way to know who has how many votes. We are told and we sense that it is close. And like most seasoned observers, we find it hard to believe Martinez did not think he had a good shot before deciding to take it this far. Does he have the votes lined up and is playing coy? Or is it a brass balls move to grab the power by forcing the issue? Maybe a little of both is our read--he has a decent number of votes and a lot of balls.

Speaker Lujan
What seems to be hurting Lujan the most is his four year rubber-stamping of Big Bill's agenda. Not that Martinez disagrees with most of it. "Kenny is probably supportive of 95% of what is proposed, it is the way Ben has handed over the authority of the House to the Governor that is the really big issue," said a veteran Capitol wall-leaner.

State Rep. Lucky Varela, chair of the powerful Legislative Finance Committee, said as much when he told Terrell of the New Mexican that he was supporting Lujan's speaker bid, but with the caveat that he show some cojones when dealing with Big Bill.

The smart money is betting that the race will sort itself out a week or so before the actual vote and that one of the candidates could see the writing on the wall and get out; if Martinez can't get it together, he could simply say he was testing the waters. If Lujan is faltering he could say he has served long enough and is retiring from the post.

If the matter goes to a vote my Alligators--and I am only listening to my most astute ones on this--say they expect one of the candidates to win it big, by perhaps as much as 30 of the 42 votes.

"The caucus will sense there is a clear winner and that should break it open, one way or the other," said a veteran of the game.

But the worst case scenario--a down and dirty fight to the finish with one of the candidates only losing by a vote or two cannot be ruled out. A divided House could get downright nasty after that.

Rep. Cervantes
My blogging buddy down in Dona Ana county, Heath Haussamen, has received confirmation from State Rep. Joe Cervantes that he will seek the majority leader position if Martinez gives up the post to go for speaker. But southern Joe, chair of House Judiciary, may have some tough sledding ahead. Sources here in the north say a bevy of candidates could emerge to replace Kenny, not the least of whom could be Ben Lujan if he were to lose the speakership! Also, add State Reps. Rick Miera, Jose Campos and Mimi Stewart to your majority leader chasing list.

The issue of what happens to Lujan if Kenny beats him is especially intriguing. Maybe the deal could actually be that Ben takes the majority leader spot. But deals between Martinez and Lujan are not known to stick, particularly the one they reportedly made in which Ben would give up the speaker's gavel to make room for Kenny. That "deal" was supposed to take effect two years ago. Now look where we're at. Still, a loser Ben on the bench does not seem tenable.


State House Democrats face an anguishing decision. Should they let go of the 70 year old Lujan, a loyal soldier who has rewarded them, but sometimes offended them with his tough love and who has a good run since 2001? Or should they do the inevitable now and vote in the new generation symbolized by Martinez and restore the House's institutional strength lost to the Governor under Lujan?

One thing is certain and power player Lucky Varela signaled it. He says Lujan must pay a price if he is to stay in power, and that price is less fealty to the Fourth Floor. For those of us in the peanut gallery that is as real as it gets. For Bill Richardson, it's what's known as a House call. For Kenny Martinez, it's opportunity knocking.


State R's still plan on having an unusual end of the year meeting of their state Central Committee that we blogged of recently, but they have moved the date from December 8 to the 9th and the location from the campus of the University of New Mexico to the more staid ABQ Hilton Inn.

The R leadership also says there will be no power plays at the meeting, like picking a new chairman. They say the agenda will be strictly limited to a year end budget review and a post-election preview.


Several readers took exception to our comment on Tuesday's blog that no city councilors have ever built state political careers. They said what about Pete Domenici who started out in the 60's on the old ABQ City Commission and went on to assume legendary status in the U.S. Senate. They are right about Pete, but the modern city council did away with the commission in 1974 and since then no councilor has gone on to a statewide political career. As usual, Domenici had good timing.

Thanks for tuning in today. Keep me posted with your news via email from the link at the top of the page. I'll post a little Friday blog for you too. I have some tidbits that should be of interest. See ya' then.

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