Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The First Gent's Job: Pushing Literacy; Plus: Is Susana Through in Senate? She Feels It's Stiff-Arm, Plus: A Bow Tie Wearing Budget Watcher 

He likes to hunt and enjoys a good baloney sandwich but other than that we haven't heard much from First Gentleman Chuck Franco during his wife's first year in office. But word is getting out on Franco's push to improve the state's literacy:

With about 46 percent of New Mexico's native English speakers reading at a sixth-grade level or below, the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy is pushing the Legislature for more funding. And helping drive their efforts is first gentleman Chuck Franco. The husband of Gov. Susana Martinez spoke at a news conference earlier this week about his support for expanding such services and the goal of eradicating illiteracy in New Mexico. "My interest in adult literacy came to me when I was in law enforcement."

Franco said that when he started working with troubled youth, he realized that their issues ran beyond behavioral problems. Having parents at home who couldn't read was one of them.

Good work, First Gent. And along those lines, we'd like to lobby you a bit.

There's a constitutional amendment making the rounds in Santa Fe that would allow us to use funds from the state's $10 billion Permanent Fund for very early childhood (birth to five years) education and development programs. Don't you think if we got to them at that age that we could break the cycle of illiteracy that afflicts so many of the state's children and that is of such concern to your good offices? Not that we are among those who go ballistic over the proposal from your better half to hold back third graders who can't read well. It's just that evidence is mounting that it may be too late to change patterns by then.

Just some thoughts, Chuck, and we're always available to discuss them further over a good baloney sandwich. We'll bring the mustard.

Byrd & family
We get this from the newest candidate in the race for the GOP nomination for the northern congressional seat held by Dem Ben Ray Lujan:

Quay County rancher and engineer Jefferson L. Byrd announced his candidacy for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District today after months of traveling the district and visiting with grassroots conservatives.

“...I believe that my strong conservative background is best to take on Ben Ray Lujan’s socialist policies...In order to effectively compete for this seat, we need a true conservative who is from the district and has actually lived through the tough times that the Obama/Lujan agenda has created.”

That reference to a conservative "who is from the district" is an indirect jab at businessman Rick Newton, the other GOP candidate in the northern race. Newton lived in ABQ, but now lives in Taos. Byrd was born in Springer, NM.

On the Dem side, Lujan is seeking re-election and is a heavy favorite but he is being challenged for the nomination by former Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya. Speaking of which....


Here they come, Harry. Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya's challenge to northern NM Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan for the Dem nomination brings this Alligator attack:

...It was interesting that a key aspect of Harry Montoya’s announcement was taking on corruption when he’s had his fair share of ethical issues. The New Mexican pointed out part of it, reporting on the fact that his non-profit got county money while Montoya was a county commissioner and his brother-in-law had a contract with the county to lobby the legislature. That’s just the beginning.

The former board president of Montoya’s non-profit quit her job after nine years because of Montoya’s behavior that included hiring his relatives and wasting money. Montoya talks about taking on the Lujan political machine when he had a machine of his own that put his relatives to work...I guess with Harry it’s do as I say not as I do...

Montoya is no stranger to hardball politics. He was in the rough and tumble for the 2008 Dem congressional nomination and lost to Lujan.


In the ABQ US House race for the GOP nomination, retired Army Sergeant Gary Smith reports $88,000 in cash on hand at the end of December. He reports raising over $125,000, most of which he loaned himself. The federal candidate money reports for the fourth quarter of 2011 are being filed this week.


While observers wait for GOP US Senate candidate John Sanchez to do something--do anything--when it comes to taking on front runner Heather Wilson, the their candidate in the race--Greg Sowards of Las Cruces--isn't waiting:

I am the only candidate in New Mexico with a clear solution to combat Obama's Liberal Agenda and restore the promise of prosperity to New Mexico and America. In stark contrast to my Moderate rival in the New Mexico Republican primary, I stand for strong conservative values. With your help, together we can stop the era of bailout-minded career politicians and eco-extremism.

Wilson's perception as a "moderate" contender in a GOP primary that will attract legions of conservative voters remains her main weakness, but only if her foes are effective in exploiting it.


What we lovingly call the "down and dirty Downs deal" burst into the headlines as powerful Dem State Senator Tim Jennings declared that the 25 year racino lease recently awarded to the Downs at ABQ should be investigated by law enforcement. (Hello, Attorney General King?). And then came this--the Guv folding her hand in the face of stiff legislative opposition:

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn the nominations of four state fair commissioners after Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized her administration's handling of a 25-year lease for a company to build a larger casino at the state fairgrounds. The governor's move on Monday eliminates the possibility the Senate might reject some of her appointments to the commission, which approved the lease late last year with the Downs at Albuquerque. Jennings of Rowell and other Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee objected to the lease during a confirmation hearing on commissioners. They say the lease was rushed through and questioned whether the Downs got preferential treatment.

The Dem Legislature often had a hard time finding its voice when one of their own--Big Bill--was on the Fourth Floor, but after a year of playing poker with Susana they are learning her moves. Can she keep up with theirs?

Now Senior Alligator analysis direct from the Senate Rules Committee hearing:

Martinez withdrew (86'd) the four state fair commissioners rather than face a floor fight. Two commissioners were approved unanimously by the rules committee ( the two who had opposed the deal). She then tried to lay off the alleged corruption on the commissioners that she appointed and told what to do. She was seriously outmatched by the Senate. She gets nothing through them after today.

Nothing through the Senate? Well, nothing that you are going to give a second glance.


And then there's Senator Linda Lopez, chair of that powerful Rules Committee, who didn't have the stomach to take on a powerful University of New Mexico Board of Regents member when he came before her committee for a confirmation hearing when Big Bill was Guv, but is now unloading both barrels when it comes to Republican Martinez. Santa Fe newsman Milan Simonich, covering for the El Paso Times and with much more aggressive reporting than the blogs and papers in Cruces have had with Susana (welcome to the wrong side of town, Milan) comes with this:

Lopez is challenging the fitness of Gov. Martinez’s nominee to run New Mexico’s prison system. (She) issued a statement today saying she had “strong reservations” about Greg Marcantel, secretary-designate of the Department of Corrections. Lopez chairs the Rules Committee, which does background checks on the governor’s nominees for cabinet posts. She said the Senate’s investigation of Marcantel (left) had turned up an unfavorable work history. “... The background check revealed that he has in fact been suspended twice as a prison guard, and was charged in a civil lawsuit with breach of duty..."

The Guv's office goes ballistic in response, accusing Lopez of conducting a "smear" job. Nope. Attention Fourth Floor (and Fifth), it's a political Movida signaling the start of the election year.You guys have the Dems squirming over repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and now they've got you squirming over the Downs deal and more.

Martinez and her political team do politics very well, but now we are in the deep weeds of actually running the government. And that's another story--one that is now beginning to fully unfold.

AP's Massey
About two weeks to go now in the 30 day legislative session and the AP's intrepid Barry Massey, (now the dean of the regular capitol press corps?) has begun the long budget watch:

A proposed $5.6 billion state budget hit a last-minute snag in a House committee Monday after Republicans objected that several of the GOP governor's initiatives might get chopped if the state's revenue outlook dims. The Appropriations and Finance Committee postponed a final vote on the budget, and the chairman, Rep. Henry Kiki Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, said he was surprised by the GOP complaints because members of the panel had tentatively agreed last week on provisions of the spending plan. The budget proposal calls for a spending increase of nearly $216 million, or about 4 percent, in the fiscal year that starts July 1. However, the plan leaves about $41 million available for possible tax cuts - a high priority for the governor - or additional budget increases.

The state has gone from a $6 billion budget and is now crawling back towards $5.6 billion. That's why tax cuts create more resistance than usual.

Whatever happens, Massey's trademark bow tie is sure to have plenty of coffee stains on it by the time the session ends.

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