Monday, March 30, 2009

So Long Legislature; Hello Candidates; Powell Says Yes To Another Bid, Plus: Bill's Polls, The Speaker's Wounds And State Reports On County Dem Meets 

Like bears ending their hibernation, political hopefuls for the 2010 cycle are starting to emerge now that the Legislature's time in the spotlight has expired. One of the first to awaken from their slumber is a familiar face--former State Land Commissioner Ray Powell. He tells us his 2006 Dem primary defeat hasn't dissuaded him from a life in politics and he will again seek the Dem nomination in 2010. Powell did not make a formal announcement but answered in the affirmative when we rang him up and wondered aloud if the land commissioner post was on his radar.

The veterinarian, soon to turn 59, served ten years in the position ('93--2003) which has garnered a fair share of attention during the reign of current GOP Land Commissioner Pat Lyons. Powell of ABQ's North Valley now toils on behalf of the Jane Goodall Institute which specializes in wildlife research, education and conservation, but is ready to venture into the wilds of La Politica:

I have met amazing people from all over the globe. Many are the world's experts in land management, wildlife science, economic development, water, public health and many others...I aspire to use these relationships and ideas to create new opportunities on trust land in New Mexico. ..I see no reason why we can't lead the world in innovative and restorative practices...

Powell's attempt to reclaim the land slot faltered in 2006 when he ran against a fellow former commissioner, Jim Baca. The race broke along classic Dem Party primary lines--with Powell losing because he could not command enough of the Hispanic vote. Baca's nomination, however, proved too controversial and led to the re-election of Lyons, the only R outside of the judiciary to now hold a statewide political office. Lyons is term-limited and is widely expected to seek a southern seat on the Public Regulation Commission in 2010. Current PRC Commissioner David King is seen as a possible GOP land commission contender.

Primary history could repeat in 2010 as it appears Powell's main challenge will come from Santa Fe County Commissioner Mike Anaya, 44, a well-liked rancher and electrical contractor who has been quietly lining up support for more than a year. Will other candidates join the Dem fray? If not, Powell will face another race in which ethnic politics could play a dominant role.


Chair Montoya & Di
Light Guv Diane Denish long ago formally announced she will seek the Dem nod for Guv in 2010, and so far she is the only official candidate. She was working to strengthen her position over the weekend, attending the Sandoval County Democratic Party convention at which David Montoya, a former aide to Senator Jeff Bingaman and now head of the defense firm Manzano Strategies, captured the county chairmanship. Sandoval is an important Dem county, but perhaps more so in the general election when R's and Independents give it a reputation for being a key swing area.

Potential Di Guv opponent Val Kilmer popped back in the news last week when we broke the story that he apparently has commissioned a poll. No one outside of his circle can be certain it was him, but Di says it wasn't her and who else cares to spend $30,000 or so to test the actor's negatives? The New Mexican hit with more details and we commented for KOB-TV's coverage.


For incumbent Guv Bill Richardson the campaigning days are over and that may be for the best. The latest SurveyUSA poll conducted this month for KOB-TV shows Bill garnering approval from just 42% of the electorate with 54% disapproving. His good news is that he appears to have bottomed out. The February survey showed 41% approved of the Guv's job performance.

Bill will poll better with likely voters who pay more attention to the news, but there is no denying that he and many other incumbents are getting tainted by the poor economy and climbing jobless rate. Even popular Dem Senator Bingaman now polls positive at 56%, a far cry from the low 60's that he has traditionally put on the board. For Bill, the pay-to-play allegations being investigated by a federal grand jury, the presidential campaign that took him out of state last year and the aforementioned economic recession would seem the main culprits in the precipitous decline from his glory days. Also, he is now past the mid-point in his second four year term. That is traditionally a soft spot for incumbent politicians.

Richardson may be weaker, but he is not impotent. Even a less muscular Bill is still the state's premier player. He has a stack of legislation on his desk from the recent legislative session that he can either sign or veto, reminding all of the institutional power of the chief executive regardless of what the latest polls report. But the days of wine and roses are over for this governorship. Today it is more like bottled water and cactus flowers.


Those most closely associated with Bill also seem more vulnerable. Take, for example, NM House Speaker Ben Lujan who has taken criticism for being too obsequious towards the Fourth Floor. Observers note that Lujan was frustrated this session as a myriad of major proposals he backed went down in flames. There was that hyper-controversial amendment he sponsored that was spiked by Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith; the refusal of lawmakers to put up money to save the College of Santa Fe, the Speaker's Alma Mater; the death of the Lujan-backed measure that would have appropriated special funding for the Santa Fe opera, and last, but certainly not least, the failure of the TIDD proposal for land development giant SunCal. Here's a report from one of our Roundhouse watchers, a Dem with 10 years of wall-leaning under his belt:

The Senate showed no deference at all to the Speaker. Senate committee chairs had him sitting in committee to be heard like any other House member, and repeatedly tabled his bills. In past sessions the Senators would show deference to his workload by hearing his bills before any other House member sitting in a committee. No more.

To make matters worse, the Daily Trumpeter hit with a piece Sunday questioning whether there were any state strings pulled to try to keep in place a northern NM billboard that Lujan owns. This on the heels of Lujan's rant that Chairman Smith was a "racist."

The Speaker's session was also marked, some observers say, by a more rebellious Democratic freshman class. Lujan and Richardson have also had to contend with an empty state treasury for the first time since either of them claimed power. In these circumstances it is the more conservative State Senate that has filled the power vacuum to the detriment of Ben and Bill who are expert spenders and horse traders, but not attuned to the fine art of butchering
a budget.


We want to run this item gain for those who did not catch it the first time. We were getting conflicting info on whether the new state campaign contribution cap law that takes effect in 2011 would be adjusted for inflation in future years. Apparently the answer is yes:

Attached is a copy of the House Judiciary Committee report on the campaign finance bill According to this, contributions are indexed to inflation, but the Secretary of State is supposed to put out what the new limits are on October 1st of an election year and the new limits go into effect the day after the General Election in that year. The final bill is not available online yet, so hard to be positive that the report is correct and indexing got into the final bill, but it looks like it may have...

The new contribution limits that take effect after the 2010 election are $2300 for legislative candidates and $5000 for statewide candidates.


We have some reports for you from those Dem Party county meetings around the state Saturday. First, from Big Bernalillo County, our correspondents on the scene report:

Estimated attendance was 300-400. Here's who was elected and other news:

* County Chair - Ana Canales (re-elected)
* First Vice Chair - Victor Raigoza * Second Vice Chair - Pamela Herndon * Brian Colon announced his candidacy for re-election as state chairman * Diane Denish is off and running for Governor (as if we didn’t know that already) * US Rep. Martin Heinrich sent two letters to be read aloud, one speaker stated that Heinrich is expecting a serious challenger in ‘10 * Elected 72 males and 72 females to State Central Committee ( Pretty standard convention. No big news.

We'd like to know who Martin believes will launch a serious challenge to him next year. So far, no major R's have made much noise about wanting to take on the freshman lawmaker.

From Taos County, it turns out that a threatened challenge to incumbent county chair Chuby Tafoya never materialized. Tammi Jaramillo did not make the run. Our Gal Saturday says:

Chuby won by acclamation. Jaramillo was present but did not run for chair or vice chair. She was nominated for state central and lost coming in last. About 75 showed for the Taos meeting.

From Colfax County and Raton blog reader Preciliano who checks in on the Saturday Dem session there:

Jesse J. Johnson is the new party chair in Colfax County and the former chair, Jenny Garcia, is the new vice chair. A very orderly meeting.... The state party had someone in attendance to make sure the Dems were doing things on the up and up. Jesse is mayor pro tem here. A total change in leadership of the party here...Lots of Regan Democrats in Colfax County. Let's see if Jesse can change the trend of Democrats switching and/or voting GOP in the high plains.

We heard there may have been something worth mentioning from the Chaves Dem Party Saturday meeting. If so and one of our readers has the lowdown, send it along and we'll pass it along.

From the High Plains to Little Texas to the Rio Grande Valley, we've got this wonderful land covered. This is the home of New Mexico politics. E-mail your news and comments.

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