Monday, July 07, 2008

After The Fourth Comes Change On The Fourth Floor; Bill's Staff Chief To Exit, Plus: King Looks At Future, And: Reps Moving Around; What's The Rule? 

Brian Condit
As the bombs burst in air this Fourth of July, politicos wondered what kind of political bombshells would be set off in the second half of what will be an election year for the books. Even as they paused to contemplate what's to come, there was breaking news for the state's political elite to chew on along with their perfectly charbroiled burgers and homemade potato salads. Insiders were spreading word that Big Bill Chief of Staff James Jimenez was calling it quits and would be replaced by Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Condit.

The Jimenez news did not overwhelm--he has two years and two months with the hard driving and hyperactive chief executive--but it did renew speculation on that special session of the NM Legislature on health care that Big Bill assures us is coming. However, there is increasing skepticism from a variety of corners. Whether Bill--and now Condit--can pull off the session--or cancel it with aplomb--will tell us if this lame-duck administration has much juice left or whether Bill and Company, as the kids say, have jumped the shark.

As for Jimenez, he's a government pro who was previously head of the Department of Finance Administration as well as city manager of Rio Rancho. That city now has a new mayor--State Rep. Tom Swisstack--giving rise to speculation that Jimenez might just get called back to duty there. Whatever he does will surely not compete with the thrills and spills of being by Bill's side.

No one is going to begrudge Condit, a former union president, the higher salary he will draw in his new job. If Obama does not get elected and Big Bill finds himself completing the final two years of his second term, Condit and the rest of the Fourth Floor staff may end up eligible for combat pay.


Speaking of Bill wandering off the Old Santa Fe Trail, in that regard any good news for Joe Biden's vice-presidential chances is good news for our Guv. If Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is picked by Obama for the veep slot and the team wins the White House, that would mean one less competitor for the post that Richardson covets--Secretary of State. Bill has fallen off the veep lists, but his name is still in circulation for SOS. Biden is still a hot prospect for veep and SOS. Not that this corner is pulling for his departure. Politics around here without Richardson would be like the Fourth of July without fireworks.

AG King
One of the many who tried and failed to thwart Richardson's rise to the top may still be infected with Fourth Floor fever. When they were not oohing and aaahing at the annual fireworks display put on by Attorney General Gary King, insiders report that partygoers at his ranch Saturday night were chattering that King, who told me in May of '07 he would not seek the Dem nod again for Guv, has now commissioned a poll to take a look at the political landscape.

Making a third run in 2010 for the Dem nod for Guv would take some political bravery. King would have to give up his chance for a second AG term. But if Bill stays around here, Light Guv Denish stays Light Guv. If she's not an incumbent, the Dem 2010 Dem field could get as crowded as Elephant Butte on the Fourth. On the other hand, an early Denish ascension to the Guv's chair could thin the crowd faster than a Roman Candle burns.


Two open US Senate seats. Two Udalls seeking them. Their slogan? "Vote for the Udall Nearest You." But is the Udall trademark environmentalism becoming a black mark in this era of spiraling gas prices? New York Times coverage here.


We asked and we received. Asked, that is, for help in determining what happens when a state representative moves out of his legislative district and takes up residence in another part of the state or even another state. The question arose amid speculation that Roswell GOP State Rep. Dan Foley, recently defeated by Denis Kintigh in the June primary, might pull up roots and move to Rio Rancho. Here's some blogging from two state reps who e-mailed First, ABQ GOP Rep. Janice Arnold Jones, a member of the House Voters and Elections Committee.

Our laws on living in the district are "flexible" to say the least. Specifically, the legislator must be registered in their district when they seek office. As long as they claim an intent to return, no problem. Near as I can tell there is no requirement to live in your district once elected...If Dan moved to Rio Rancho, I would argue that there is an ethical and moral requirement, but that is not the law. Incidentally, there are several legislators currently serving who do not live in their districts-- Democrats and Republicans. They may have homes or offices in their districts but they do not live there. Hmmmm.

But ABQ Dem State Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, an attorney, interprets the law differently, saying if a state rep moves out of his district, he risks losing his seat.

If a state rep moves outside the boundaries of the district the rep is “deemed to have resigned.” The trouble with the statute is it doesn’t state who “deems” it?...Does the speaker of the House announce that someone has been “deemed” to have resigned? If Foley moved to Rio Rancho, I’m sure he would formally resign.

One e-mailer said the county commission (s) in the affected district could declare a resignation in effect when a lawmaker moved out of this district. They would then act to fill the vacancy. I don't, however, recall a commission doing so without the lawmaker announcing his resignation.

What I'm now wondering is which lawmakers Janice is referring to when she says some current legislators own homes or have offices in their districts, but don't live there. That info could make for some lively campaigning.


Still more reaction to our reminisces of that 1976 campaign trip we took with US Senator Joe Montoya and AP writer Bill Feather. Former State Land Commissioner Jim Baca comes with a cool photo from 1936. It pictures Montoya on the left; Sisto Leyba in the center and Fermin Baca, Jim Baca's father, on the right. (Click to enlarge.)

The trio is posing on the steps of the US Capitol. At the time, they were all going to school in Washington, under the auspices of US Senator Dennis Chavez. (How about those "summer white" suits?)

When this photo was snapped, Montoya was 21 years old and a law student at Georgetown University, Chavez's alma mater. He was also elected to the NM House in '36, becoming the youngest state rep in state history. In '38, Montoya graduated from law school and was also re-elected to the state House. Pretty impressive.

In the final analysis, history was not too kind to Joe Montoya, but he certainly made his share of it.

I'm Joe Monahan, reporting to you from Albuquerque, NM.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Familiar Name Headed To GOP Convention, Plus: Tracking Dan Foley: Moving Or Not? And: More Political Happenings As We Celebrate USA's Birthday 

Among the familiar political names selected to be a New Mexico delegate to the GOP national convention in Minnesota September 1 is Paige McKenzie. She made headlines in a dramatic and unfortunate way when she was severely beaten with a tire iron October 4, 2006 by a still unknown attacker. At the time McKenzie was the spokeswoman for John Dendahl's GOP governor campaign. McKenzie had been driving home when her tire went flat. She pulled over to look at it, and drove into a bank parking lot in Bernalillo. Her attacker saw her pull over to look at the tire.

State GOP spokesman and acting executive director Scott Darnell says, "Paige still faces some challenges with regard to her health, but is doing much better. She’s not working on any campaigns..." He adds that McKenzie is doing private PR work.


The Alligators have been besides themselves, insisting that ousted Roswell State Rep. Dan Foley is about to leave Roswell and relocate to Rio Rancho. They were so insistent that we called Foley. He told us there was no impending move planned by his family, but "something could come up." But he insisted that for now he is staying put. But the Gators are not pacified. They persist in saying the move is in the making and even that Foley will try to engineer a political comeback when he pulls up Roswell roots. They are even speculating on what office he might seek.

Foley was truly one of the most controversial state representatives in state history. Even now that he is on his way out, his statements are the subject of intense scrutiny. As far as a political comeback, after that mug shot of Foley that was on statewide TV during the primary, any comeback will be, to say the least, challenging. Just for kicks, I need to look into what happens if a state rep moves out of his district and into another in the state. Does he have to resign his seat which means there would be an appointment? If you know the answer, e-mail it in.

Chairman Weh
State GOP Chair Allen Weh says there will be no permanent GOP executive director named until after the November election. We recently broke the story of Adam Feldman's departure from the job. Weh says Feldman is doing field work for the party, but is not saying why Feldman is out. Scott Darnell, 23, the communications director, is now acting ED, but he leaves for Harvard in a month. Weh will then have to name another ED to serve through the november election.

Speculators wonder if the emergence of former ED Marta Kramer as John McCain's NM campaign coordinator has anything to do with the ouster of Feldman and whether one of her allies will be placed in the ED slot once Darnell leaves. We're wondering, too.

Kramer was targeted by foes of Weh who ran a candidate against him last year for state chairman, but Weh prevailed. However, before the election, Kramer, to the delight of Weh's opposition, was gone from GOP headquarters. Weh indicated to me at the time that he had given Kramer the push, without explicitly stating that was the case. Kramer denied she was fired and was livid at the report here. Kramer's departure before the chair vote was seen as strengthening Weh's re-election hand.


The Fourth may be a holiday but some politicos will still be working. The Obama NM campaign is setting up shop at various Fourth of July celebrations as they continue to register new voters. The campaign says it will have reps at public celebrations in ABQ, Las Cruces and Farmington.


We haven't seen much of NM first lady Barbara Richardson since Big Bill ended his prez campaign earlier this year. But here she is back on the trail discussing domestic violence with Barack Obama during his June ABQ visit. By the way, the AP style book says the term "first lady" is not a "formal title" and therefore, it is not to be capitalized. The book is silent on the title, "Mrs. Big Bill." We think that is capitalized.

E-mail it in--the news, comments and political gossip. And Happy Fourth of July.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Danger Ahead For The "New" Obama? Warning Flags Up, Plus: Political Tales Of Days Past: The Bullet Train & Hangin' With "Little Joe"--Part III 

There is a major change in the Obama campaign. The boldness is gone, replaced by cautious treading. We picked up on it when we remarked on his ABQ visit last month. The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington is first up with the warning flags for the Obamites, saying the move "to the center" could spell trouble.

"Watering down that brand is the political equivalent of New Coke. Call it Obama Zero."

Obama's repositioning to the center is politics as usual and is often advised as the best way to win a general election. Huffington's view is that such moves have made past Dem nominees Gore and Kerry appear less than stalwart and cost them the election. She fears the same fate for Obama.

It is a story line worth watching. Here in NM, it appears that among the congressional contenders a successful Obama candidacy would be most important to ABQ hopeful Martin Heinrich. The former city councilor could use some lengthy Obama coattails to ride if he is to overcome Republican Darren White.

It's the slow summer season that's bringing on some of the the second-guessing of Obama because McCain is going through the same thing. And here's a thoughtful rebuttal to Arianna's column.

Meanwhile, blog reader Fred Sisneros thinks another recent strategic move by Obama may impact the congressional races here.

Obama opting out of publicly financing his campaign could play a part in New Mexico races. I still think the Republican candidates in ABQ and the southern district have the advantage, but the Obama "50 state strategy" will play a part. His voter registration drives will be different than ACORN's. This guy means to win and he just might have coattails.

One thing we are not hearing much about at this stage is the impact of race on the NM prez election. Will race play an important role among east side Anglos? What of the talk of resistance toward Obama in the Spanish northern counties? Early polls are entertaining, but the answers to these questions will have to wait until the fall when the public is fully engaged.


Dem US Senate nominee Tom Udall and northern US House hopeful Ben Ray Lujan, Jr. can be expected to hold tightly to each other as they head into the fall campaign. They will today in Santa Fe by appearing at the opening of a new Santa Fe office for the state Democratic Party at 730 St. Michael's Drive. Udall needs Hispanic support and Lujan could use Udall's muscle with Anglos in the district who did not warm to him during the primary. Still, Lujan, who is a solid frontrunner in his race, is key. The pressure is on him to energize northern Hispanics to help himself, Udall and Obama in an area where Dems need big numbers.


You never know who you'll run into on the plane. NM lobbyist Scott Scanland passes this one along:

I'm sitting on a Southwest jet yesterday when former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor gets on the flight and sits in the row behind us. When the flight lands, I help her take her bag down from the overhead storage. After this, I thank her for her service. She politely accepts my thanks and leans in to me and says: "It was a pretty good job.


Another top NM lobbyist, former State Senator Bob McBride, writes in about the "bullet train" proposed by then-Governor Toney Anaya in the 80's and which we blogged about recently. Bob swears the following is true:

Not to diminish Toney Anaya's proposal for a Santa Fe to Albuquerque train, but the true visionary was Odis Echols. In the early 70's as a state senator from Curry county he introduced legislation to build a train. I know, because I co-signed the bill. It failed. It was going to be called Santa Fe -Albuquerque Rapid Transit or "SFART."

No, we don't make it up.


A lot of political veterans wanted to help us solve the mystery of what Las Cruces hotel we were at in 1976 when we were hanging with US Senator Joe Montoya. He was campaigning for re-election and we were traveling with him and legendary AP correspondent Bill Feather whose birthday (his 48th, not 50th) we celebrated in Montoya's room with beverages appropriate to the era. We recalled it was the Hilton, but that wasn't built until '86. Politicos who were on the circuit in those days seem to have nailed it down. Here's the take from one who requested anonymity.

If it was 1976 in Las Cruces a lot of Dems and hangers-on would gather at Buddy Ritter's Holiday Inn. It was pretty new and probably the classiest Holiday Inn around. The place had a nice adobe feel to it and stiff Margaritas...Another good D watering hole was My Brother's Place downtown, but it didn't have a hotel nearby except the old Amador that had been turned into a bank by then..The Rs pretty much drank in private except on Lincoln's birthday.

Gotta luv that line about the R's only coming out on Lincoln's Birthday. Of course, in those days in Las Cruces they were even more outnumbered than today. Maybe they felt safer indoors. As for Buddy Ritter, he now owns the famous Double Eagle restaurant in Old Mesilla.

The Big Wheel turns and the parade moves on, but the footprints of Montoya, Feather and the like are seen and remembered in the never-ending book of La Politica.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The June Review: How Major Campaigns Stacked Up, Plus: An Argument For The Dems You Probably Won't Hear, And: We Really Are The Land Of Make-Believe 

"If it was a boxing match, I would score June 10 to 9 for Udall." So said a Steve Pearce sympathizer of the first month of the first fight for an open New Mexico US Senate seat since 1972. He's probably got it about right. Dem nominee Tom Udall scored points for pulling a mild surprise and staying up on television following the June 3 primary. He is not expected to come down before Election Day. The ads have been generally well-received, Some addressed Udall's weaknesses with conservative southern and east side voters. However, Pearce scores points because Udall stepped in it when he refused to talk to the press about his latest vote on funding Los Alamos Labs. Pearce also scored when the general public, outraged by rocketing gas prices, began to be more supportive of oil drilling on lands enviros want off limits.

Now we are in July and the question is how long will Pearce let Udall have the TV airwaves to himself? Will the GOP contender launch ads or wait for a more traditional start in August? Will the conservative congressman try to move a bit to the political center? And whatever he decides, how long can he afford to wait?


In the battle for the open ABQ congressional seat featuring Dem Martin Heinrich and Republican Darren White, there was hardly a fight to score in June. Both sides were busy raising money. White had a fundraiser featuring President Bush that took in about $300,000 and another one Sunday sponsored by outgoing Rep. Heather Wilson. Heinrich has been doing the same, with an emphasis on raising funds via the Net.

The onus is on Heinrich to make the first move because White's name ID is so high. The faster he can raise the funds, the faster he will start his paid media, but don't expect either Heinrich or White to repeat Heather Wilson's '06 campaign when she started TV ads in mid-July.

When they do get started, White and Heinrich will each have a now familiar problem to address. For Martin, it is the perception that he is too liberal for the district. For White, it's his attempt to position himself in the middle when his past and, perhaps his gut, place him on the right.


Down south, there was some preliminary skirmishing in the first general election campaign month, with Dem Harry Teague and Republican Ed Tinsley each firing volleys shortly after the primary, but then quieting their guns. Teague hammered Tinsley over having a second home in Santa Fe and implying that he was a carpetbagger. Tinsley fired an early shot at Teague "that he can't change his spots like a leopard" and try to become an overnight conservative.

Because Teague did not have an overpowering primary victory, he still has much work to to do to change longstanding voting patterns that favor the Republican. He will have to take the fight to Tinsley, but he has to brush up on the skills necessary to do so. Tinsley has to connect better in the district. While he has a ranch there, he remains vulnerable to the carpetbagger attack that derailed him in the GOP primary in 2002.


It is probably not an issue Martin Heinrich or Harry Teague can get a lot of mileage with because it is peripheral to voters' main concerns, but if either is elected they will be in the majority in the US House. That could mean NM might not suffer as much from the power we are losing with the retirement of Senator Domenici and the three House seats going to freshmen.

Dems took over the House in 2006 and are expected to add to their majority this year. If history is a guide, it could be many years before the R's are back in the majority. This is probably a side issue for most voters, but if White and Tinsley are elected, it could mean a lot of hours doing crossword puzzles. Being in the minority in the House is much worse than in the Senate where the rules let the minority in on the action.


Jerome Block Sr., chiming in on our Monday blog about the past legal troubles of his son Jerome, the Dem nominee for the northern Public Regulation Commission seat, thinks we went over the line with one of our lines. We wrote: "Block's dad, Jerome Sr., is himself a former PRC member who has had his share of public controversy. Is it time for a father-son talk on how to come clean and move forward? Jerome Sr. responded:

"Joe: Please tell me what public controversy you are talking about, or are you another one who titillates through innuendo?"

We didn't quite phrase this right, and Jerome Sr. has a point. He had plenty of "public controversy" dealing with the complex issues before the PRC and handling the press, but he did not have the personal legal issues as Jerome Jr. does. Our main point stands. Jerome Jr. needs to be more forthcoming before he embarks on a career in public service or his past is going to shadow him.

Gov. Bill
An electric car company that said it would open a manufacturing plant employing 400 on ABQ's west side ditched New Mexico Monday in favor of California. That was a blow to Big Bill who often cited Tesla Motors as one of his economic success stories. But now the bragging rights belong to California Guv Schwarzenegger who keeps Tesla in his state. No hard feelings, Bill.

The Guv did get to announce in June the opening of a Rio Rancho call center for Hewlett Packard, but the loss of Tesla is an example of the competitive and choppy economic waters we are in and the dangers posed to any politician wading into them.

If the current gloom and doom is just too much, why not go to the movies and forget about it all? If you do, there's a good chance the flick you take in will have a New Mexico connection. Hollywood's Variety recently devoted exhaustive coverage to our state's largely successful efforts to attract the film industry. It seems we truly are the land of make-believe, but if you follow politics around here you already knew that.

E-mail your news, comments and campaign news, and thanks for stopping by.

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