Friday, November 12, 2010

The Transition: Of John Sanchez, Pete Domenici, Heather Wilson, Big Bill And The Star Of The Show--Susana Martinez 

One can easily empathize with the frustration of Governor-elect Martinez as she stares at a fresh estimate of the state's budget shortfall that paints a worst-case scenario of a $452 million shortfall, up from the widely assumed $260 million. But accusing Big Bill and his administration of "hiding the ball" over the true nature of the gap as the Governor-elect did isn't going to get us where we need to go.

The campaign is over. Susana won. But here we were on Veterans' Day evening tangling over who's to blame. Susana started it, reacting to the fresh shortfall figure from Bill's Department of Finance and Administration by lashing out at "Richardson-Denish" just like the campaign was still in full swing. Bill's office retorted that Susana "doesn't understand the state budget and the growth of Medicaid since she ignored it during the campaign and hasn't accepted our offer for a thorough briefing."

Our state has been totaling up immense budget shortfalls for the past two years. No one is hiding the ball or playing a shell game. We are still knee-deep in a nasty recession and a state budget meant for bull market times. Budget and media professionals we spoke with at the Capitol Thursday night were surprised and a bit disappointed that Martinez was looking in the rear view mirror and not stepping up and tackling the task at hand.

They point out the differing budget shortfall estimates are based on different assumptions about the economy and future legislative action. The adminstration has theirs and the Legislative Finance Committee has theirs. In fact, we are one of the few states that have this check and balance of competing budget estimates. The LFC will come with its latest estimates in December and reconcile it with the administration's in preparation for the January legislative session.

There have indeed been unreasonable growth assumptions by the legislative and executive branch in recent years as they hoped against hope that more money would flow to the treasury, but this was a game of "kick the can" not "hide the ball."

As we said, Susana's frustration is understandable. We felt it when Santa Fe kept coming with those rosy economic projections. She faces a challenge few Governors have. She has promised not to cut public education or Medicaid and also not to raise taxes and still present a balanced budget. But it is her challenge, not that of "Richardson-Denish." She now owns it courtesy of the state's voters. The longtime prosecutor made her case and convinced the jury. But the case against Big Bill is no longer on the docket. The jury spoke convincingly and in her favor Election Night.

Are these repeated claims that she has been deceived about the true condition of the state's finances setting up a scenario where she backtracks on her no cuts pledge? Trouble is, Susana said before she was Guv-elect and out on the campaign trail that there was "a shell game" going on, but she still made that pledge of no cuts to Medicaid and the public schools budget. (Do you sense she is already working on redefining what constitutes the public school budget?).

What New Mexicans anxiously await and need is Governor-elect Martinez's specific proposals to solve this dilemma as she said she would. They also still await announcement of her budget team so she and they can get a handle on the crisis. There will always be time to blame Big Bill and seek political cover if things don't work out. But that time is clearly not now.

Friday afternoon Martinez named Richard May as her nominee to become Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration. May is a former staff director for the US House budget committee. He has also worked for the NM Legislature's GOP caucus. He most recently has worked as a government relations manager at Sandia Labs and as a tax advisor for the Hunton & Williams law firm. He also worked as a lobbyist for the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Here's his employment timeline. AP report here.

The budget emergency is not going to be solved by campaign rhetoric. It is now time to govern. It's not always easy to switch modes after a rigorous campaign, and we sense that Susana and her political arm is having some trouble turning off the adrenaline.

We had a good Republican candidate for Governor. What we need now is a good Governor.


So what's the first thing Governor-elect Martinez does with her Lieutenant Governor? She sends him away for a month. Longtime Light Guv watchers chuckled when they heard that.

John Sanchez will go on a month long tour to every corner of the state at the behest of Susana to get ideas on how to improve small business. But didn't we just have a year-long campaign with Sanchez and Martinez spending hours listening to essentially the same folks John will now be visiting? Well, when it comes to your #2, out of sight and out of mind is the unwritten code for New Mexico governors.

But couldn't Sanchez, a successful small businessman and former one term state representative, be better utilized by being put to work on the state budget debacle? That's the obvious hole that needs to be plugged in this transition that is about to enter its second full week. Remember, a 60 day legislative session looms that must solve the large budget shortfall.

Meanwhile, this road tour stunt is not a good omen for Sanchez supporters who thought this lieutenant governor just might penetrate the Guv's inner circle...


Where are the new breed of small businessmen and women on the Martinez transition teams? Do you see any? If they are the ones who are going to pull us out of this job rut shouldn't they be on these panels charged with selecting the new cabinet secretaries?

And if Susana wants to send a message of unity, why aren't there more Democrats and independents on these many transition teams? Is she missing an opportunity to appoint some and then publicly tout their presence?

And why is our Governor-elect letting her transition chair--Heather Wilson--publicly wag her finger at outgoing Big Bill for trying to save certain state employees from the axe by placing them in classified jobs before he gives up power January 1? Everyone knows that the new Governor can get rid of these employees with the snap of her finger. Do we really need caustic campaign-like exchanges over this during the transition? Didn't we have enough of that during the campaign?

Richardson is doing what generations of politicos have done before him. Those seeking the hide-out jobs know the risks. Martinez will be Governor soon enough and can overturn that decision and many others. She doesn't need to score any political points over this. Maybe possible 2012 US Senate candidate Wilson does.

Wouldn't it be nice to see New Mexico's leaders--incoming and outgoing--at least pretend to get along as we transition to a new government?

Pete Domenici
One of our readers speculates on the influence of former GOP US Senator Pete Domenici on the Martinez transition and forthcoming administration:

Joe, you haven't commented on the influence of Domenici on the Martinez campaign and now the transition. I recall that when (formr GOP Governor) Gary Johnson was selecting his management team the then-Senator attended the meeting selecting Johnson's chief of staff. Lou Gallegos, Pete's former staff chief, was chosen. Now we see Steve Bell, another former Domenici chief-of-staff, on the chief of staff selection team and Senator Domenici's son, Pete Jr., on the energy and environment team.

Pete has always gone to bat for (former US Rep and Martinez Transition Chairman) Heather Wilson and there she sits poised to sharpen her network for a run at (Democratic US Senator) Jeff Bingaman in 2012. Jeff better be paying close attention as Martinez, Wilson and Domenici build an organization capable of unseating the Senator in 2012.

And here's food for thought from New Mexico writer and former ABQ Journal columnist Jim Belshaw:

Joe, Remember back in the Democratic salad days when the Democrats would win office upon office upon office and the Republicans would scream from every rooftop: "Voter fraud! Massive voted fraud!" Remember that? Remember those armies of illegal aliens who were voting for Democrats? Remember those Republican demands for investigations?

Whatever happened to all that voter fraud?

Last Tuesday, after Republicans won office upon office upon office, suddenly "massive voter fraud" disappeared from the Earth.

What happened to it? Where did it go?

Jim, voter fraud is on vacation. The Republicans have run him around the track so many times, he needed a long rest.


_<span class=We found this cool photo of Susana Martinez and hubby Chuck Franco on the Net. It was taken Election Night in Las Cruces. The Guv-to-be is finally smiling after a long campaign in which observers noted neither she or Dem Diane Denish rarely cracked a joke or a smile. Enjoy it while it lasts. In a couple of months, after wrestling with the deficit-riddled state budget, a sighting of Susana's million dollar smile could be as rare as a spotting of Big Bill after January 1.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

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