Monday, December 18, 2006

Ben Or Ken? NM Awaits Outcome Of Speaker Battle; Caucus Votes Today, Plus: Radio Thorn Removed From Big Bill's Side, And: Roswell Publisher Beck Dies 

The Roundhouse
Maybe when they select a state House speaker today they should send up a puff of white smoke like they do when they pick a new pope at the Vatican. On second thought, someone waving a white flag would probably be more appropriate to announce the winner of this highly personal and hard-fought battle for the second most powerful position in state government.

Optimists hold out hope for a peace pact until the final moments which will come at around 2:30 this afternoon at a Capitol room where the 42 Democratic members of the House will make a very personal decision and cast a vote for either incumbent House Speaker Ben Lujan or his challenger, Rep. Kenny Martinez of Grants.

(Tomas Garcia is the newest Dem House member, getting appointed by the Guv this morning to fill the seat being vacated by State Auditor-elect Hector Balderas. Insiders say he is an ally of Lujan’s.)

Both sides are spinning that they have the votes for victory. The Capitol wall-leaners, not wanting to alienate either side, were staying away from the race like it had been sprayed by a skunk. The little "conventional wisdom" that could be gathered had Lujan winning, but Martinez keeping close enough that he did not want to fold his hand. The incumbent in any race almost always has the edge and this one is no exception, but an upset would not be a complete shocker.

The ABQ Journal weighed in on the race by slapping on the front page of Sunday's paper a story that recapped an earlier report, but broke no new ground on the Speaker's association with controversial lobbyist Smiley Gallegos. The Martinez camp has made ethics a major part of their pitch to dump the 70 year old Lujan, but Lujan has been around for more than 30 years and his backers said the Journal's slam could actually harden votes for Lujan as the paper and Martinez are trying to frame the race as an ethics battle when it is really more about power and politics.

The Martinez camp is hoping today's secret ballot in which a name is checked off and there is no handwriting evidence will help Kenny get to the magic number of 22. If not, he is expected to stay on as majority leader and live to fight another day.

Here's an interesting sidelight: The vote for speaker will take place after a morning ethics training session to which all members of the House have been invited. One hopes there are not too many empty seats.


One of the least appealing aspects of this battle has been hearing the reports of how a few lawmakers were pledging their support to both sides, making a solid count of votes like trying to nail jello to the wall. I know. Everyone wants their slice of pork and their favored committee slot. Still, the sight of lawmakers cowering in a corner afraid to state their preference publicly if asked isn't exactly inspiring.

The irony of this intraparty fight is lost on no one, coming as it does after a national Democratic sweep, a historic landslide for the party in the Guv's race as well as a huge U.S. Senate win along with no losses in their state House majority. What worries Democrats outside of the caucus is a damaging aftermath which is why many are still hoping that someone will blink before the vote and in the name of "unity" withdraw.

A win by either Martinez or Lujan is not going to change the direction of the state--both can be classified as moderate to liberal Democrats--but if the loser and his supporters are bitter and a divided House results, making legislative progress could become more difficult for the lawmakers and the Governor. However, the lobbyists could have a field day feeding off all the factionalism.

Stay tuned. We'll post the outcome of the race (and the majority leader post too) right here as soon as it is known.


Bob Clark
Big Bill and company should be wearing smiles and the state GOP some frowns over the news that the state's largest radio station, 770 KKOB-AM, has ensconced a new morning man whose political views don't match those of Pat Frisch, the conservative morning talker who for the past two years has henpecked the Guv on almost a daily basis. The relationship had deteriorated to the point that Richardson avoided appearing on the show. That should change as the new morning voice at the 50,000 watt news/talker is Bob Clark, an old friend of Big Bill spokesman Pahl Shipley and who tells me has voted for the Guv in the past two elections.

"I am a middle of the road voice. When it comes to issues related to the family you will find me more conservative as I have two young daughters," Clark told me. He was quick to add that he will not be an automatic Big Bill booster either, but the ongoing war Frisch conducted against the Fourth Floor is over. (Pat remains at the station as program director, says he is glad to be rid of the 4 a.m. wake-up call and will sit in when Clark takes time off.)

Clark, 44, is a veteran of the mid-sized ABQ market (#70 in the nation) having worked as a news reporter for KOB-TV and later joining KKOB radio as a sports reporter and talk host.

"I am a political junkie, but the show will cover a variety of topics to appeal to a wide audience," Clark explained as he prepared for his first show today.


KKOB, while still ranked number one among listeners 12 plus in the ABQ market, has lost some oomph in the last year, losing nearly 30% of its listeners and now garnering about a 7% share of the radio audience versus a nearly 10% share in 05'.

Radio experts tell me the reasons include a more competitive media environment with the Internet and morning TV news, a lack of outside promotion of the station, a too hard-right approach in the morning when a wider audience is tuned in and a modification in the way the ratings company measures audience.

Clark will try to restore the morning slot to the #1 position and also lower the average age of the listenership. That's another longtime concern of the ad agencies which have been scooping up air time on the morning show as well as the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity programs that follow, but nonetheless express concern about a too old audience and a too conservative outlook as the nation moves to the political center.

Clark, a fast-talking native Pennsylvanian, may have a good shot at turning it around. He knows the key political players and says his morning show will not be about political parties. "It's about the issues. I am going to champion the issues I believe in and praise and criticize depending on a politician's stand on that issue, not what political party they belong to."


Longtime Roswell Daily Record publisher and owner Cory Beck died in Las Cruces over the weekend. He apparently suffered a heart problem during dinner and collapsed. Beck was a fixture in Chaves county and most recently made statewide news when his conservative newspaper endorsed Democrat Big Bill for re-election. Beck, 53, was in the thick of things in Chaves where Republicans are riddled with factions and emotions often run high. He was known for his fairness and was one of the few remaining individual owners of a state newspaper.

Email me your latest political news from the link at the top of the page and also your reaction later today to the outcome of the Speaker's race. I will try to post some of them tomorrow.

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