Monday, July 28, 2008

Bill Cornered? Oil Price Plunge Threatens Special Session, Plus: Latest NM Poll Numbers, And: Teague, Tinsley & Heather, Too; All On Your Monday Blog 

Attention K-Mart shoppers: Don't plan on spending those state cash rebates just yet. The generosity of Big Bill and like-minded legislators could be upended by the sudden price decline for oil and natural gas. That has Bill's August 15 special session of the Legislature looking as thin as November ice. If the correction in energy prices morphs into a full-blown bear market, one can only wonder what hat trick the Guv comes with to salvage the $163 million rebate plan, the other goodies he has planned and the special session itself.

Just how big a gamble the Guv and his allies are taking became clear over the weekend when it was reported the $392 million projected state surplus depends on oil staying at around $134 a barrel and natural gas staying priced in the $11 area. But oil is now below $125 and gas has dropped below $10. Spending millions on rebates, road repair and maybe health care reform before you have the money in the bank is like spending that raise you were promised before it hits your checking account. But this is Santa Fe, where they've been singing refrains of "Happy Days Are Here Again" for better than five years. The epic energy bull market has rolled on and on. Learning a new tune to go with leaner times is not yet on the program, but the musicians are warming up.

The state House, usually a citadel of solidity for Bill, started to crack with the new cash flow worries. Santa Fe Dem State Rep. and Legislative Finance Committee honcho Lucky Varela joined with Senate money heavy John Arthur Smith in wondering aloud about the wisdom of the rebates. These guys probably have the first dollar they ever made. But on the Fourth Floor, where they light cigars with $100 bills, they were having none of it.

"I've been dealing with pessimists in the Legislature..I've been bold," declared Big Bill, arguably the luckiest Guv in state history as he presided over gargantuan oil and gas surpluses every year since taking office.

The special already seems cursed. First, the Guv said it's primary goal would be health-care reform but when support fizzled, he added the rebates. Now, if the energy markets continue to fade, the rebates are endangered, along with the rest of the special agenda. All this puts the Guv in the strange position of needing higher gas prices, while Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico need the opposite. Could the Guv cancel the session? It would be out of character, but any gambler will tell you the first rule of success is to cut your losses. Stay tuned.

Here's the Guv's favorite Web site between now and August 15. And Bill's new favorite thing to do is this. If it works, he won't have to worry about that pesky Legislature much longer.

Speaking of a pesky Legislature, its Web site has been down a bunch lately. Are they running out of money already?


Besides the price of oil and natural gas, the other number Big Bill is obsessed with is his popularity rating. Like a barrel of oil, it too has been heading south. Last month Rasmussen had the Guv plummeting below 50% approval for the first time in memory. When he hit 47% the Fourth Floor's attendants said not to worry. After all, it's one of those automatic phone surveys and just not scientific enough. Fast forward a month and Bill has now inched up to 51%. They can call that a fluke, too, but don't tell us, tell it to Messrs. Smith and Varela who watch that number like hawks eyeing mice.

You can continue your summer reading or dip in the pool. The US Senate race is still a sleeper, and it's going to stay that way until Republican Steve Pearce starts answering Dem Tom Udall who has probably already spent a half million bucks on tube time. The Rasmussen poll just out has Tom continuing to lead the Hobbs congressman by a healthy 25 points--59% to 34%. Pearce has made up some ground from last month, but voters have been seeing all-Tom-all-the-time for two months. Most pros think Udall will likely sink quickly back to the 53% to 55% area once Pearce starts firing away. But getting the Dem frontrunner below the magic 50% is going to be the challenge. Did Pearce give Udall too much a of a head start?

In the NM Prez race, Rasmussen has it for Obama by five--46% to 41%. McCain was eight back last month. The Rasmussen polls were taken July 24 and have a margin of error of + or -4 percent.


We weren't of a mind to take on the latest happenings of Heather Wilson. After all, the ABQ congresswoman had her travel bags packed for her by Steve Pearce when he defeated her for the GOP US Senate nomination. But now she is popping up almost daily on national cable shows and other venues touting the success of the Iraq "surge" and warning that Obama is "frighteningly inexperienced." It may help her get a comfy job if McCain pulls off the upset, but Heather's footing on this one is shakier than cafeteria Jello. Take a look at how she felt about the famous surge in January 2007 as quoted by the ABQ Tribune:

"No one I have talked to can explain to me why we should expect increasing U.S. forces in Baghdad at the levels being discussed would have a different outcome now than it had last summer and fall."

Now was Heather "frighteningly inexperienced" for not being able to forecast that the surge would work? Well, you be the judge.

Harry Teague
GOP southern congressional candidate Ed Tinsley is bashing the daylights out of Dem contender Harry Teague for not agreeing to what seems to be a debate a day. Harry of Hobbs is not the slickest talker in the world, while Ed could sell you water rights to the Mojave. Teague won't turn down any of the big TV debates and will make the joint appearances, but he is not going to let Ed show off at his expense. That's smart because the media and the voters are not going to take notice as long as Harry shows for the main events.

What voters do care about these days is the state of their wallets and purses. To that end, the Dems slammed Tinsley, former head of the National Restaurant Association, over his opposition to increasing the minimum wage. It went up to $6.55 last week, Here's the money quote from 2006:

"The people who want to raise minimum wage must have never written a check to cover labor," said Ed Tinsley, chairman of the NRA.

The challenge for Teague is to energize minimum wage and other low income voters who are traditionally difficult to get to the polls.


Another gambit that insiders say could help oilman Teague in this race which is "lean Republican," according to top NM analysts and the closely followed Cook Political Report, is to write a check. That's right. A big, fat ol' check. He came with one for $800,000 in the primary. Tinsley, owner of the K-Bobs's restaurant chain, seemed as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs when he had to get his checkbook out for the GOP primary. He finally did and loaned himself $200,000.

The national Dems say they will pump $1.2 million into TV for underdog Teague. (The first round of insider polling has Tinsley leading, but not near the magic 50%.) The R's are cash-strapped and have not announced a buy for Ed. If Teague piles on with his own money, the question could quickly become: Raise or call, Ed?


Our Thursday blog pinpointing state auditor Hector Balderas as Lt. Governor Diane Denish's likely pick for Lt. Gov if she takes the Guv chair in the event Bill gets a job with a President Obama, started some name dropping. How about Santa Fe State Rep. Lucky Varela? To the mail:

He's a well-respected 21 year legislator; vice-chairman of the LFC; popular among state and public employees, well versed in state government, finance and the personnel system; former state comptroller; college graduate and holds a law diploma and is a US Army veteran;

Other names that surfaced included former Santa Fe County Commissioner Javier Gonzales, an ex-president of the National Association of Counties. Another reader asked: How about EspaƱola Mayor Joe Maestas? Fine with us. Send them to Di. We think you can find her at an Obama rally near you.

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