Monday, April 19, 2010

Two Petes: Better Than One? Senator Hits Trail For Son; We Analyze, Plus: GOP Light Guv Starts, And: Senate Leader Sanchez Interview 

The Two Petes
What do you do when you don't have major TV money and the absentee voting starts in two weeks? Well, if you're Pete Domenici Jr. you grab onto the coattails of your famous dad and take a tour around the state, hoping to drum up some "free" media to counter the advertising onslaught of Allen Weh, Susana Martinez and to a lesser extent Doug Turner.

Domenici Sr., the longest serving US Senator in state history, hooked up with Pete Jr. Sunday for a week-long road trip that will have them stopping in places like Carlsbad and Hobbs. They are sure to capture page one coverage of the smallish newspapers that serve those communities, but that is not nearly enough to match the muscular media presence of Weh and Martinez.

There's another matter. The time of Senator Domenici already seems to belong to a quaint past. Events since his departure in 2008 have been thunderous and rained down on us at an electrifying pace. Unprecedented unemployment, an historic state budget crisis, a rudderless Legislature, a politically wounded Governor and innumerable corruption capers present a vastly different landscape than the one navigated by Pete Domenici Sr. It is a much changed culture, even among clubby Republicans, than the one that birthed the career of the Senator.

In Saturday's ABQ Journal, an item about the tour identified former GOP Senator Domenici as "D-NM," driving home the old adage, "How soon they forget."

Domenici Senior gave entree to Pete the Younger into the state's political club, but Jr. may have miscalculated in believing that the state GOP was in need of a savior. Any of the Republican contenders, while not setting the house on fire, have proven themselves to be plausible nominees. The vacuum that Domenici may have thought was there when he entered the race in January is being filled. He will need more than his famous last name to take this prize--much more.


The expectations game has hurt Domenici. When he announced, we were as guilty as anyone in assuming that his political skills, if not comparable to the father, were at a high level. But that has since been shown not to be the case. It was like the air coming out of a balloon as Domenici Jr. made the rounds, drawing poor reviews from the talk show hosts, pols and pundits who follow such matters. One can only imagine what this campaign would look like if Domenici had met the expectations that were so hastily placed upon him.

One of the more cynical arguments making the rounds is that many GOP voters may vote for Domenici Jr., assuming he is the Senator. That argument starts to lose credence the more money the other candidates spend, but there will probably be some voters in the outlying areas who may think that.

Domenici was ahead in his robocall poll he conducted March 22. He had 30%; Weh had 21%; Martinez had 17%. How much have those numbers changed since then?


It will be interesting to see how much Domenici Sr. campaigns for his son in the final weeks of the campaign. The Senator's legacy is also on the line here. He will cut TV spots in ABQ for his son today. The ultimate outcome of the race--for better or worse--will be long-remembered as his final political act.

Domenici, now 76, endorsed Heather Wilson in her GOP US senate primary against Steve Pearce in 2008. Pearce won, but Domenici's endorsement helped Wilson close the gap In the ABQ metro. Domenici Jr. says his father is highly popular in rural areas of the state where he brought home the pork, but the Senator has never been close to the hearts of the conservatives, thus his endorsement of Wilson over Pearce.


Dem consultants are emailing in and noting the $46,000 Domenici, Jr. paid to political consultant Doug Antoon in over three short months. Some of them think that's too much because Pete Jr. has only raised $372,000 for the campaign and has about $125,000 cash on hand. But Antoon, an attorney, has something no other consultant does--a solid win under his belt in the very latest campaign cycle. He engineered the '09 ABQ city council victory of Republican Dan Lewis over longtime incumbent Michael Cadigan.

Antoon points out that his firm is providing the Domenici campaign with all major services and that associates are also paid from his fees.

You are only as good as your last campaign, and you can command high dollars when you win. But can you do an encore, Doug?


GOP lieutenant governor contender John Sanchez is not going to keep that $274,000 he loaned himself sitting in the bank. The roofing contractor and 2002 NM GOP Guv nominee, debuted his first TV ad Thursday. That sent a message to rivals Brian Moore and Kent Cravens that, as in the Guv contest, the money is starting to talk in the race for #2. Moore has enough cash to get on TV later in the game; Cravens is nowhere near what he needs.

As for the Sanchez ad, there is an issue. He opens the 30 second spot by saying:

"For the last ten years, I've been taking on the political bosses in Santa Fe in order to move New Mexico forward."

Well, not exactly. John did indeed take on Dem House Speaker Raymond Sanchez and beat him in 2000. Then, in 2002, he ran against Bill Richardson as the GOP Guv nominee and lost. But where has he been since then? Making money in the private sector, which is fine, but that is not "taking on the political bosses."

Sanchez has always been a good television communicator. He narrates this ad himself and does so convincingly. The ad and ones to follow could give him a commanding lead in the little followed Light Guv contest. Sanchez has paid his party dues and there is no explosive negative out there about him. Moore and Cravens may have to rough him up if he is to be stopped.


Alligators checking in here say Light Guv Denish and Light Guv hopeful Brian Colon have both been busy cutting TV spots in recents days. It shouldn't be long before they are both up on the air--especially Colon who faces four rivals.


One of the major challenges for the consultants to Allen Weh is to soften his harsh image. They will be trying all sorts of things, including putting up videos of Weh on YouTube where he gives cooking lessons.

Weh is in the thick of it for the 30 to 35 percent of the vote that will win a five way race for the GOP Guv nomination. The general election is an entirely different story.

Michael Sanchez
State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez says he supports increasing personal income taxes on the wealthy, contrary to our blog comment Thursday in which we pointed out that Sanchez backed reinstating the now vetoed food tax.

Sanchez said he would "vote in favor" of an income tax surcharge on high income taxpayers, as approved by the state House in the recent special session but did not come to a vote in the Senate. He said he is also favors an increase in the personal income tax rates that were drastically lowered by Big Bill's 2003 tax repeals and approved by the Legislature.

Sanchez blames Richardson for being intransigent on restoring a progressive income tax structure---wealthy and middle income tax payers now both pay a rate of 4.9 percent--saying there was no point for the legislature to send an income tax reform bill to the Guv because he made it clear he would veto any such measure.

"He took it off the table. We passed a tax package a lot of us did not like. We had to swallow hard." The leader said during a lengthy cell phone call on state tax policy.

That package include a partial reinstatement of the reviled food tax which Richardson then vetoed.

Sanchez said he supported the food tax because the $68 million in annual revenue it would have generated was vital to avoid a cut in services. We pointed out that bringing back the food tax, which impacts lower income taxpayer most, might be politically acceptable if it were part of tax package that spread the tax pain around, including the wealthiest.

He said measures to rebalance what we consider to be out of kilter income tax rates will be introduced in the Senate next year, but he again pointed out that a governor opposed to reform will be hard to get passed. "I suppose if you asked every candidate for Governor how they feel about (changing personal income tax rates) they would say "no."

That includes Diane Denish, who will be the Dem candidate for Governor, but has not yet been pressed for her specific views on tax reform. In supporting the food tax veto, she said she does not support an increase in taxes on working families." She leaves the door open for tax increases after the Legislature cuts costs to her liking. "The Legislature should have done everything possible to cut costs and make government more efficient before even considering regressive taxes that target working families..."


The 2003 personal income tax cuts engineered by Big Bill cost the state over $400 million a year in revenue. He also initiated the repeal of the food tax early in his tenure. That was no problem during the Great Bull Market years, with soaring energy revenues, replenishing state coffers. That, of course, is no longer the case.

Can New Mexico cut enough so that no further tax adjustments are needed? It is highly doubtful Just listen to the GOP candidates for Governor, who offer only vague suggestions on where they would trim to bring the budget into balance.

Richardson's initial tax cuts were of their time and based on current economic conditions. But those conditions have been absent for several years, and still tax policy remains stuck in the past. And while Sanchez says he personally favors reform, the state Senate split between conservatives and progressives, does not have the will to stand and fight the Governor on the fundamental issue of tax fairness.

What the state needs is a comprehensive plan of spending cuts and tax increases and the leadership willing to storm past the special interests and sell it to the public. Republicans who rule out any adjustment whatsoever to taxes aren't advocating for a policy to get us out of this mess, they're drawing a line in the sand. Ditto for Democrats who insist that there is absolutely no room for any more cuts to the swollen state budget.

The current governor and legislature have retreated, choosing to take baby steps in special session after special session and allowing the crisis to fester as they await an economic miracle. But the miracle we await is a state budget and tax structure that fairly spreads the pain among all New Mexicans.

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