Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top State Politicos Head To Holidays In Cheery Mood, Plus: He's Not Done Yet; Big Bill Delivers Big Movie, And: Merry Christmas, New Mexico! 

New Mexico's top politicos are headed into the Christmas holiday and the end of this often burdensome year of 2010 on a high note. And none more so than New Mexico senior Senator Jeff Bingaman.

The Democratic lawmaker is relishing a very big score for New Mexico--Senate approval of the START nuclear arms treaty with Moscow which could easily mean billions of more bucks and perhaps hundreds of more jobs for Los Alamos and Sandia Labs in the decade ahead.

In this budget year alone Bingaman says about $300 million more will flow to Sandia Labs because of START. The White House has pledged to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile even as the treaty reduces the number of those weapons. NM's labs will play a key role. (Bingaman floor speech on START here. Senator Udall's report on the busy lame-duck session is here.)

Over the next decade a $14 billion increase is expected for the National Nuclear Safety Administration which will be in charge of modernizing the nukes. Others will get their share of that funding as well, but the extra cash coming to NM is going to strengthen the foundation of the state economy and, boy, does it need strengthening.

These dollars have political implications as well. (Doesn't everything?) Obama and Bingaman face NM voters in 2012. This very meaty increase in lab funding puts some muscle on Jeff's political skeleton. And the state has been waiting for just that ever since the 2009 retirement of the king of pork--GOP Senator Pete Domenici.

(We just checked the betting odds in Vegas on Heather Wilson running against Bingaman. The odds are looking longer.)


ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich may be crying in his beer next year when he finds himself in the minority in the Republican controlled US House. But he too is heading into the holidays in a cheery mood. The new mission he announced this week for the flying "Tacos" at Kirtland Air Force Base keeps the 1,000 plus personnel on the payroll. Like Bingaman, Heinrich's political biceps are benefiting.


ABQ Mayor Richard "RJ" Berry may not be laughing like Santa Claus, but he finishes his first year in office in good polling shape and can enjoy his holiday without too much political worry. He is crossing his fingers that the outbreak of police shootings--14 this year--has ended.

Berry did have a misstep in reviewing his first year in a newspaper interview. He was asked to name a big failure and responded that having the zoo place the body of a dead giraffe in a zoo trash bin, rather than a landfill. No mention of the 14 persons shot--most of whom were killed--in 2010? Maybe that's not a "failure" but it has to be at the top of the mayoral list of regrets--whether all the shootings were justified or not.

And then there's Big Bill. He enjoyed yet another political resurrection with that trip to North Korea, even if the White House seemed to work overtime to distance themselves from the Guv. (More on another of his big moves below).

And the Guv-to-be will have a very Merry Christmas, indeed. Susana Martinez still basks in the afterglow of her historic win. Her transition was marred early on when it seemed the ugly Guv campaign would continue with her team publicly attacking Richardson. But she called off the dogs and things settled down.

With her promising pre-holiday appointment of a new secretary of education, Martinez has in place most of the major players for her administration. That should help her relax as she unwraps whatever surprises Santa has in store for her.


On Thursday, Martinez named New Mexico State University political science professor Jose Garcia as her Secretary of Higher Education.


It's an out sized Christmas present for those working to prevent the repeal of the tax incentives that attract movie makes to the Land of Enchantment. From Bill's place:

Governor Richardson and Marvel Studios’ Co-President Louis D’Esposito announced that Marvel will film the comic book Super Hero adventure film THE AVENGERS primarily in New Mexico. The production will be the largest feature film ever made in the state as well as the largest Marvel production to date. The film is estimated to employ hundreds of New Mexican based cast and crew, and use hundreds of local service and supply vendors. Pre-production is already underway, with principal photography scheduled to start in April 2011...

Gotta hand it to the Guv. He plays it large right to the end. We're going to miss that. So will you.

But he says he will be hanging around Santa Fe after he leaves office, trying to make the peace:

Richardson says he will establish a Santa Fe-based international peacemaking institute after leaving office at year's end...The institute will focus on brokering peace accords and rescuing hostages.The two-term Democratic governor has secured an office in Santa Fe's downtown area and plans to call the institute the Richardson Center for Peace and Dialogue.


Dan Vukelich writes and sends a video:

Joe, I figure you're a beach bar kinda guy. Here's what I was doing in Belize. I couldn't resist. The light way too good. Beach bars just don't get much better than this. I figure now that we're in the depths of winter, we could use a nice vicarious beach getaway. Here's the video.

Thanks for that, Dan. Glad you sent it because the only beach we've seen this past crazy year was Tingley.

Well, once again that time of the year has arrived for us to say "thanks" to you and our advertisers. Here's our annual Christmas card as well as Frank who will help us capture some holiday cheer.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Merry Christmas, New Mexico!

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan (That's your cue, Frank).

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Top Three New Mexico Political Stories In Fast Fading 2010, Plus: Hanna Joins Susana; Education Pick Appraised 

What are the political stories of 2010 that may earn a mention in the history books that New Mexico kids thumb through in 2040? There were three.

The obvious number one is the election of Republican Susana Martinez as Governor. History will forever record her as the first female chief executive in the state's now over 400 year history. In the here and now, her election points New Mexico in a more conservative direction. But how conservative is yet to be determined by a watchful and cautious public. They signal they want change but not upheaval.

The second most important NM political story of 2010 was the pick up of eight additional seats by state House Republicans. That gives them their most members--33--in the lower chamber than they have had in modern times. It could be the high water mark for the state's minority party which could easily give up some of the gains in only two years. But they could also build on the gain and actually take control of the House. Combined with the election of Martinez this GOP tilt is the stuff of which history is made. Let's see what they make of it.

The third most important story--one like those above with long term ramifications for the state--is the re-election of ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich. The state's majority party now comfortably controls the most important of New Mexico's three congressional districts--the population and media nerve center. A loss by Heinrich could have sent the seat back into R hands, but his win means the Dems have a decent chance of repeating what the R's did with the seat before they lost it in 2008--keep it for forty years.


And there won't be any more US House seats for New Mexico for a long time to come. The census figures released Tuesday showed that we are a long, long way from getting a fourth US House seat. One of our Senior Alligators who specializes in such matters said we would have to have very rapid growth over the next twenty years to possibly score another in 2030.

We grew at 13.2 percent in the last decade, just a little above the national rate of 9.7 percent. That is a much slower growth rate for our state than the 20 percent growth we had in the previous decade and much lower than the high growth states around us like Nevada and Texas

There are now 2.059 million of us, says the census. The census also reports we are evenly divided in our preference for red or green. (Just kidding. Want to make sure you are still reading.)

What is for real is that Los Alamos County, home to Los Alamos Labs, is the sixth wealthiest county in the USA. The median income there is $100,423. We better not see any of them doing their Xmas shopping across state lines.


She's all of 37, but Hanna Skandera's resume already reflects what would be a full career for a 60 year old. After looking at the impressive credentials of Skandera, tapped by Governor-elect Martinez to be the state's next Secretary of Public Education, there's little question that she has the know-how and intellect for the task ahead, but whether she has the staying power and the political skills will only be known in time. (Video here.)

Insiders praised Martinez's decision to go out of state for this key cabinet position, citing rivalries within the state's educational community that could doom an in-state pick. Also, with NM ranking 49th in many education categories, a fresh perspective and some young blood is more than welcome.

Skandera is a conservative educator. She served as an adviser to 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain who was an advocate for school vouchers. She has served as undersecretary for education in California and as deputy commissioner of education under Florida GOP Governor Jeb Bush. She also served as deputy chief of staff for the US education secretary. She has been a research scholar at Stanford's Hoover institution, a conservative think tank. She has also taught at Pepperdine University's grad school and is described as a prolific author. Just a couple of months ago--in August--she was named CEO for a nonprofit teacher training foundation.

Does she get all that out at her introductory cocktail party or hold back some?


Martinez thinks Skandera's experience improving reading scores for Hispanic students in Florida is a template for New Mexico. And it may be.

What the new secretary doesn't need to do is drag moderate New Mexico into a needless, divisive and ultimately losing battle to impose school vouchers--or as they are euphemistically known--"school choice."

We already went through that in the Guv campaign when Martinez was caught on video supporting vouchers, but later backtracked. As an outsider, Skandera is positioned to unite the education community. It would be a shame if she allowed ideological rigidness to derail that opportunity.

We don't think she is going to go there, but we put the flag in the window--just in case. The Skandera nomination won an immediate endorsement from the centrist "Think New Mexico." They said:

Skandera is a true education reformer and a data driven proponent of smaller schools. Her selection is especially good news for public school children and their parents seeking smaller learning environments.

Secretary to be Skandera will find a public here that is nearly desperate to improve the public schools--not abandon them--and especially improve the graduation rates for our Hispanic and Native American students.

As we said, Skandera's resume is packed with experience in two of the nation's largest states, the federal level and on a presidential campaign. But before she settles in a classic quote from former NM Territorial Governor Lew Wallace seems particularly apropos:

All calculations based on experience elsewhere, fail in New Mexico.

Good Luck, Hanna.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Disrupting Susana's Honeymoon; One Newspaper Tries, Plus: Tons of Taco Talk, Also: More Big Bill Legacy & Allen Weh Blogs In 

What's the first editorial page in the state to put the Susana Martinez honeymoon on ice? Not surprisingly, it's the feisty Rio Grande Sun out of Rio Arriba County which takes on Susana's decision not to limit the size of contributions to her inaugural committee:

She tries your heart-strings by stating in the invitation, “A portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the New Mexico S.A.F.E. houses throughout New Mexico.”

She does not define “portion.”

This doesn’t sound like a fiscally responsible governor, nor someone trying to help the working class. The invitation reads as an elitist gathering of the haves, without the have-nots. We’ll have to hope this isn’t an indication of her administration and that she makes public all the Bold money she raises.


It's not only Susana being watched when it comes to inaugural contributions. USA Today hits with news on concern over possible pay-to-play politics:

At least a third of the nation's newly elected governors are collecting large contributions from wealthy individuals and companies to help pay for their inaugural celebrations, records and interviews show. Some donors--such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, which donated $25,000 to Florida's Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott--have substantial business interests within those states.

We blogged recently that Martinez inagural packages are being shopped with a top price tag of $25,0oo. The transition says she will release a contribution report of names and donors. The AP came with the report that Martinez would not voluntarily apply the state's new $5,000 campaign contribution to her inaugural. There were questions raised whether those new limits apply to the inauguration but so far no legal challenges have surfaced.


Meanwhile, Susana appears prepped to have some fun on her big day.

(AP) - Hey kids! Want to line dance with the next governor?

Gov.-elect Susana Martinez's inaugural committee provided details Monday about the Jan. 1 public inauguration ceremony and children's ball.

Martinez's office says New Mexico children can dance the Electric Slide, Cha-cha Slide and the Two Step with the new governor. Each child also gets an illustrated children's story about Martinez's life, but details about the book will be released later.

The "Two Step?" Well, by the time Susana gets done dancing with the Legislature, she'll know the Two Step better than a Lincoln County cowboy out on the town on a Saturday night.


ABQ Dem US Congressman Martin Heinrich and the US Air Force came with an early Christmas present for his district, although it wasn't a surprise: The flying "Tacos" at Kirtland Air Force Base won't be entirely crunched:

The Tacos have a new mission.

Air Force officials on Monday incorporated the New Mexico Air National Guard's 150th Fighter Wing, known as the Tacos, into the command of the 58th Special Operations Wing, an active duty unit at Kirtland Air Force Base that performs combat search and rescue missions.

Heinrich, a member of the House Armed Services Committee says "most" of the 1,100 jobs associated with the Tacos will be saved. We're sure his political foes will be watching. We'd guess that the jobs are probably safe at least through the 2012 election.

It's true that the legendary Tacos lost their fighter mission, but the jobs and resulting payroll stay. In this budget cutting age that's what you call a win.


This is a nice score for Heinrich who was just elected to a second term. He said during the campaign that he had a deal to save the Tacos, but Jon Barela, his GOP rival as well as former Rep. Heather Wilson questioned that. Turns out they were wrong.

It's interesting to watch the Heinrich balancing act. He is the first Democrat and the first liberal to represent the ABQ district. Last week he voted against the Obama tax compromise, arguing against the cuts in it for the wealthy. That pleased his liberal base. This week he announced the new Taco mission, pleasing a more conservative constituency.

He has adapted with some adroitness. An example is his official reasoning on the tax cuts for the wealthy. He said such cuts would add to the national debt. He did not emphasize the historic gap between the rich and the poor in the USA--the obvious reason for voting against the extension. (Senator Bingaman did the same).


There was a sweet contrast for the Heinrich camp with that of ABQ GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis who has indicated he will run for Heinrich's seat in 2012. On the day the congressman was announcing the deal to save the Tacos, Lewis's proposal to study whether to fire the federal TSA from Sunport security was being shot down on a 6 to 3 council vote.

Welcome to the brightly lit stage of La Politica, Dan. The score is 1-0. Martin leads.


The Air Force is also going to be contributing to the economy here in another way. The clean-up on a underground fuel spill continues and its costing millions to get the job done. The key point for us is that Kirtland has been responsive since news of the leak became a major cause of concern, particularly among surrounding neighborhoods in SE ABQ.


One of our readers wrote of the suggestion heard on Monday's blog that Gov-elect Martinez form a commission to look at closing down some of the state's far-flung community colleges. They say that's a lump of coal, not the "gift" that it was labeled:

A Community College Closure Commission: Really? Are you reading labor reports about future needs? They reported that of the 30 most necessary jobs in the next 20 years, only 7 of them would require Bachelors Degrees. Most future jobs are going to be middle skill jobs which require a 2 yr. associate degrees or 1 year certificate.

So before suggesting we close community colleges, perhaps you could suggest we improve and strengthen the CC system (yes, make it a system) to meet these workforce needs. And, get CNM back to its original mission--don't let it become a 2 year college (and then try to be a 4 year institution like Northern New Mexico did a few years ago.)

The Senior Alligator who suggested the commission says he did so keeping in mind that redundancy in the state's higher education system is harder to get at because it is ingrained in the state Constitution.


More reader comments today on Big Bill's legacy as an eight year New Mexico Governor. Jeff Varela of Santa Fe says:

Hey, Joe: Just had to comment regarding your piece on the "Legacy" How about " The potential for a Legacy, that turned into a Regime"! It will be a relief to be rid of this guy and the distrust of government he has left us with! Regards and Happy Holidays!

Same to you, Jeff.

Veteran NM broadcaster Larry Ahrens has a more charitable viewpoint:

Something tells me there will be benefit from Gov. Richardson’s foray into North Korea. Evidence of that may be in the fact that North Korea “blinked” today when the South Koreans staged their military exercises without incident. The North was pretty brazen about immediate retaliation if the exercises were held.

We may not ever know the full story. But if Richardson somehow played a role in avoiding what could have been a devastating military conflict, then I can forgive some of the other misadventures we’ve seen from this Governor.


On our Monday blog suggesting some Xmas presents Susana Martinez could put under the state tree, Allen Weh, who challenged Martinez for the 2010 GOP Guv nomination, writes us:

My compliments for your suggestions for the new governor-elect. They are good ones that are bi-partisan and forward thinking.

Appreciate that, Allen. That list was put together by both R's and Dems, several of whom were in a heavily caffeinated state and all of whom want to see New Mexico improve no matter who is Governor.

We might add that you know you're in the middle of the Season of Peace when the blog and Weh--an old sparring partner of ours--start seeing eye to eye.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Chistmas Gift Suggestions For Susana To New Mexico; Will Any End Up Under Tree? Plus: Senate Leader Says Use Permanent Fund To Ease Budget Pain 

In the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas we offer up a list of twelve gifts that Governor-elect Martinez might think about bestowing on the people of our fair state. (Okay, how about 10? We don't want to burn you out this holiday week).

The usual suspects helped us compile the wish list--Senior Alligators, Wall-leaners, insiders and policy wonks. Who knows, maybe Susana will decide to place a couple of them under that impressive state Xmas tree decorating the Capitol grounds. Get out the wrapping paper, here they come:

1. Cut 20 percent from the budget of the Governor's office. It's not so much the money that would be saved, but the symbolism and the message it would send.

2. Establish a community college closure commission. We need to close some of them and in four years we might get there if we start now

3. Consolidate as many of the state's public school districts as possible. Do Portales, Floyd, Dora and Elida really need their own districts?

4. Target the generational drug addiction problem in Rio Arriba County. The county consistently ranks as the worst or among the worst when it comes to heroin overdoses and deaths. Making a dent in it would be a crowning achievement. Could Lt. Gov. Sanchez get involved?

5. Deal directly with the somber fact that more Hispanic and Native American students fail to graduate from high school than their Anglo counterparts. Ask former Governor Carruthers about it.

6. Keep people working. Continue to reduce state government employment through attrition. Forgo layoffs and furloughs and if necessary cut salaries to realize savings. Exempt lower paid employees from the cuts.

7. Direct more attention from social services to early childhood--very early childhood--to instill the value of education and break the cycle of failure.

8. Don't govern by veto. Gary Johnson was of his time. This is your time--and it's different.

9. People to meet with right away: Senator Bingaman: The Governor and the state's senior Senator need to work together to protect our interests. Richard Branson: the Spaceport is a big idea. Embrace it.

10. Surprise us


The Dems are starting to draw some lines in the sand over the state budget. How deep and ingrained they are remains to be seen when they come up against conservative push back.

The biggie is from State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez which would rely on the state's permanent fund to ease some of the deficit pain, not just more budget cuts. Sanchez didn't say how much of the state's possible $400 million budget shortfall he wants resolved by having bonds purchased by the permanent fund and the proceeds directed toward the budget challenged state General Fund. Here's what his news release did say:

...The “Recovery Investment Bonding Act” would raise revenue by allowing the permanent fund to invest in general fund bonds. The revenue from the sale of bonds would go into the general fund to help offset the budget deficit.

“When companies are struggling, they often look for alternatives to generate revenue before making drastic cuts that have the potential to damage their business. This bill provides a way for the state to raise money to continue providing vital services to those most dependent on them, including our children, sick, and elderly."

Governor-elect Martinez is considering spending cuts in education and Medicaid in addition to cutting state agency funding by 10%. “Before putting additional strains on New Mexicans already having a hard time financially, we must consider every alternative...

Under the bill, the corpus of the permanent fund would remain intact. “Last year’s bill was erroneously portrayed as a raid on the permanent fund..."

As we said, this is a big idea which may look more appealing now that the state budget has already been chopped dramatically the last three years.

The Governor-elect has said she does not want to tap into the permanent fund or raise taxes to get at the shortfall. The tax pledge is written in stone, but we sense some room for talking on the Sanchez proposal. Maybe she goes for a small bond float of say $75 million or so to wash away some of the red ink.

She will be a tough sell and she should be. New Mexicans are going to want to see her rid the budget of all possible excess fat before entertaining the bond idea. But that's what negotiating, horse-trading and lawmaking are all about. The January 18 start of the 60 day session of the legislature is now less than a month away.


When we heard that Demesia Padilla of ABQ's South Valley had been named by Gov-elect Martinez as the new Secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department we searched for a blog we did years ago on the meaning of that rare first name. Demesia is Spanish form of Demeter, Greek Goddess of the Harvest. In looking for that, we also ran cross a bunch of stories about her 2006 run as the GOP candidate for state treasurer. She lost to Jim Lewis.

Padilla, 50, is a CPA, a former IRS auditor and current member of the Gaming Control Board. She has political ties to R moderate and former NM GOP Governor Dave Cargo and worked in his '93 mayoral campaign (as we also did). But one of Padilla's first tasks will be to fulfill a pledge especially appealing to conservative R's.

The newspaper reported: "Martinez said Padilla will be responsible for crafting legislation that would repeal New Mexico's law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

The tax department also includes the motor vehicle stuff.


The Sunshine Portal shining some light on state government is up and running.


We asked readers for some thoughts on Big Bill's legacy:

Pete Baston writes:

Joe, I really really had high hopes for Bill but if their was ever a classic example of how to throw away your destiny with greed (amply supported by his advisers ) and shortsightedness well Bill is it...

Matthew Munoz came with this:

Joe, Under Uncle Bill we went from one of the worst states in the nation for DWI's and DWI's related deaths to somewhere in the middle of the pack. A problem that no Governor before Bill was able to solve.


Sophie Martin comes with a ribbing regarding a misstep in Greg Sowards’ announcement for the GOP US Senate nomination:

Freedom affords enduring lessons, not endearing. Unless he means that they’re cute.

And State Senator Pete Campos came with this remembrance of former NM Dem Party Chairman and 1986 Dem Guv nominee Ray Powell, Sr. who died last week:

Ray Powell, Sr. was a smart, honest, deeply concerned and fair person. I recall legislative sessions beginning about 16 years ago, when Ray (and the late lobbyist) James “Bud” Mulcock and me would meet once a week at 7:00 a.m. to discuss policy issues affecting New Mexico. The caring, insightful and genuine guidance Mr. Powell and Mr. Mulcock shared with me has been put to good use. I will always remember Chairman Powell as an unselfish, kind, sincere and giving leader.

Siempre, Pete Campos

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