Wednesday, January 07, 2009

They're New, Blue And Sworn In; Can New Reps Deliver? Plus: Questions On Moriarty Racino, And: Mayor Race: Cadigan Is All In; Radio Talker Ready, Too 

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
They're all new and all blue, but can New Mexico's four new members of Congress deliver? Well, one thing about Democrats--they like government. And, like it or not, the era of big government is back. The Dems also happen to be in the majority in Congress and since all five of our delegation members are Dem, NM should be able to get a decent seat at most political tables. (The AP has the story on the swearing-in of our new members. KOAT-TV's Shelly Ribando has video and a wrap of the delegation's oath-taking.)

As for our new members, Senator Tom Udall, shown being sworn in by VP Cheney with wife Jill at his side, has excelled at making friends in politics. This aspect of his personality should serve him (and us) well in the Senate where personal relationships are critical to success. What we don't know yet is whether he will be forceful enough when the time comes to stand up to his colleagues on behalf of the state. In other words, can he deliver a sharp elbow with a smile?

ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich has shown skill at forging compromise and bringing people together. Politics needs more of that. He also seems not to hold grudges which should make his work easier. He also has a streak of cautiousness. How long will it take him to get up to speed and earn the respect of his colleagues which will benefit this state?

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan has politics in his DNA. He wants to be where the action is, not just warm a chair. We think he will be results oriented. However, a man in hurry can sometimes step on the toes of others. Will Lujan know when to hold them and when to fold them?

Congressman Harry Teague brings maturity, the personality of an avuncular uncle and the shrewdness of a fox to his new office. He has a track record of success in the private and public sectors. He has the makings of a deal maker for New Mexico. But this is a new level of play for Teague. Can he read the D.C. cards as well as he reads those in Lea County? (We had Teague assigned to the House Financial Services Committee for a few hours yesterday. He has not been assigned to that committee, but is on House transportation. Committees that Senator Udall will serve on have yet to be finalized.)

Presiding over the delegation is our new senior Senator, Jeff Bingaman. After a quarter century in the Congress, he has won respect locally and nationally. But the state is now asking a lot from him--perhaps too much--as it puts on the field its greenest congressional team ever. Being leader of the pack is coming late in Jeff's career, but it could reinvigorate the lawmaker. When you know you are taking some of your last shots, you make them your best.

Rep. Heinrich
We share a bit of the concern of our friend and University of New Mexico poly sci professor Lonna Atkeson that none of our three House members has been named to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but Heinrich on House Armed Services means he will have a say in the bill that sets the spending levels for Sandia Labs' defense work, Los Alamos Labs and military outposts around the state. And Lujan on Homeland Security is relevant to NM. He had hoped for energy, but the House leadership isn't going to put a newbie on energy. Why? Well, one rather course reason is that members of that committee are showered with campaign money by energy and business interests. A committee slot is a real plum.

Gosh, we remember back in the old days when then-Congressman Bill Richardson scored a seat on energy and the dough rolled in even though he rarely had a serious re-elect challenge. They didn't call it pay to play either. Back to today, Senator Bingaman is chairman of Senate energy and with or without a NM House member on that chamber's energy committee, it will ultimately fall to him, as it did Senator Domenici before him, to safeguard the state's billions in national security funding. But hey, no pressure, Jeff.


Bloomberg News hit with a piece today bringing former big Bill Chief of Staff Dave Contarino into the pay for play scandal: 

"Federal prosecutors are asking if New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s former chief of staff told a state agency to hire a bond adviser that donated $100,000 to Richardson’s political committees, people familiar with the matter said.

Also KRQE-TV came with a report saying they have confirmed testimony has been taken from Carlos Romero, a former official at the NM Finance Authority who now works at the University of New Mexico. Former NM Finance Authority Director David Harris is also at the center of this story, having been interviewed by the FBI, according to the ABQ Journal. Like Romero, Harris is now at UNM where he serves as executive vice-president. Wonder what they talk about during their coffee breaks? Grand jury proceedings are by law secret and folks are not supposed to be leaking who has testified, but that doesn't stop them when the stakes are high.


Word is circulating that there may be unexpected financing problems with the planned Moriarty racino. Paul Blanchard, president of the Downs of ABQ at the state fairgrounds, won approval to move the fairgrounds racino to Moriarty. He needs to purchase land for the new track/casino from the King family. Blanchard has a purchase option on 500 acres of King Ranch land north of Interstate 40 and east of N.M. 41 in Moriarty. Insiders wonder whether the land has yet been purchased for the racino. Racing and slot machine gambling (715 slots) has been billed to start by the spring of 2010. Are there issues lining up the financing? There is certainly a lot of buzz about that. The development would include a hotel and trucking facility. Total development costs have been pegged at $65 million. What happens if the financing hits a speed bump? Does the racino stay at the fairgrounds?

Also, the town of Moriarty is asking the Legislature for $4.5 million in capital outlay money to help cover the costs of the facility. Total capital outlay funds available for the next fiscal year are about $157 million, according to the latest state figures. That is more than some expected but still not anywhere near what lawmakers have had in recent sessions. Also, Blanchard is a major friend and campaign donor to Big Bill. In light of Bill withdrawing his commerce secretary nomination because of the federal grand jury probe of "pay to play" in the state, will questions along those lines arise about the $4.5 million in capital outlay? That may be seen as a stretch by some, but we're in a new era where money is tight. Everything is on the table and some political connections aren't what they used to be.

Michael Cadigan
City Councilor Michael Cadigan makes his mayoral bid official. He will leave his West Side council seat to make the run. (Hey, who is running for that? E-mail us if we have early contenders.) Michael is 41 and is so far our youngest contender. He is a lawyer, bright, an excellent debater and with a hot streak that sometimes gets him in hot water. He is a former Marine, so he is prepared for battle. He has been mostly identified with the city' progressive politics--growth issues, anti-smoking etc.-- but of late has been taking on issues that appeal to a wider audience, namely crime. He will need to build name ID with limited money to compete with frontrunner Mayor Chavez. Councilor Debbie O'Malley broke news of her forthcoming candidacy on your blog Tuesday and will make it official later this week. Former State Senator Richard Romero is in knee deep. Mayor Marty is soon to follow. KOB's Stuart Dyson has the video from Tuesday's action.


Reader Alan Schwartz provides important info on the restrictive new city law that has sent all the candidates to public financing:

Joe, The ban isn't limited to City contractors, it's basically all business contributors. Here is the language:

No candidate shall accept a contribution in support of the candidate's campaign from any corporation, limited liability company, firm, partnership, joint stock company or similar business entity or any agent making a contribution on behalf of such a business entity. No candidate shall accept a contribution in support of the candidate's campaign from any person, other than a City employee, who at the time of the contribution is in a contractual relationship with the City to provide goods or services to the City.

Alan adds: The question is whether business contributors will form Committees and promote candidates independent of the candidate campaigns.

So how much money will really be spent? Will independent business groups indeed form for candidates? And what about environmental groups? They have in the past so expect them to again. We would also look for labor unions to come in.

Romero campaign consultant Neri Holguin says the new campaign law states that third party spending for a candidate will trigger matching funds for the other candidates and that we did not mention that when blogging about Romero possibly getting support from nonprofits. We will double-check Neri's info with the city clerk to make sure. But we wonder if some third party committees will try to disguise their efforts as "advocacy" to avoid the matching funds provision. After all, that is the heart of the dispute involving NM nonprofit groups and the attorney general who says their issue advocacy in '08 legislative races was actually politicking for candidates. That dispute is in federal court.

In politics, money has a way of getting in through the side door, no matter how airtight they try to make that door.

Jim Villanucci
So far all mayoral candidates have agreed to take public financing. They will be limited to $328,000 from the city treasury. Unless a rich candidate comes in and rejects public financing, or we are overwhelmed with third party spending, this means the free media will have a larger role in this race than 2005.

KKOB-AM radio's Jim Villanucci, the dean of NM talk show hosts, was already promoting the scramble for the city's top job Tuesday. Callers filled his phone lines to get in on the action. Villanucci, who leans conservative, told his audience he has voted for Chavez twice, but did not say if he will do so again. He said he believes Chavez is positioned for the win in the absence of a strong conservative, but he would like to see one in the race. The radio talker has clashed with the mayor over the controversial red light cameras and the administration had a hard time containing the PR damage.

Indications are that the ABQ Journal will again endorse Chavez for mayor. The online news outlet that employs progressive bloggers--The NM Independent--will be fertile ground for Romero. Sadly, the ABQ Tribune which for so many years led the pack in city politics coverage is no more.

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