Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2012 Starts With 2011 Leftovers: Susana & Licenses, ABQ GOP Congress? More Jobless Recovery? That & More As We Blog In A New Year Of La Politica 

Welcome back. We pick up with this first blog of 2012 where we left off in 2011. Will Governor Martinez finally sway the Legislature and win a repeal of the controversial law that allows undocumented immigrants to have driver's licenses? Will Jon Barela, 2010 GOP nominee for the ABQ US House seat, dive into the 2012 contest? Will New Mexico rid itself of this jobless economic recovery?

On the first matter there's been a crack in the Democratic dam. Las Cruces area State Sen. Steve Fischmann says he's going with Susana on the licenses. And not coincidentally, he also announces he is a candidate for re-election. That prompted veteran Las Cruces newsman Walt Rubel to make the first bold political prediction of the new year--that the third repeal effort will indeed be the charm for Susana:

This has been the primary issue for Gov. Susana Martinez for the past year. Democrats in the Legislature were narrowly able to beat back the bill last year, but that wasn't an election year. This year is....The bottom line on this one is New Mexico is out of step with the rest of the nation, and the vast majority of residents want to see the law changed.

All 112 members of the Legislature (70 state representatives and 42 senators) are up for election this year. If Martinez is ever going to win on this one, you have to believe the time is now. But we're much less certain than Walt that her political team is scaring the pants off the lawmakers and not making the Dem leadership hunker down even more. The answer will come soon enough as the Legislature begins its 30 day session January 17.


On the ABQ congressional race, the hottest topic remains whether Jon Barela, economic development secretary-designate, will give a run another try. Dem congressional hopeful Marty Chavez told a Friday night fund-raiser he believes Barela is a go based on phone calls he has heard that Barela is making. Also, the Alligators report yet another anemic quarter of fund-raising for GOP contenders Dan Lewis and Janice Arnold-Jones. They say political newcomer and retired Army Sergeant Gary Smith will out raise them both by giving himself over $100,000. These fourth quarter reports will become public at mid-month but my insiders say it is clear that big GOP money remains on the sidelines as it awaits Barela's decision.

If Barela gets in he will be a major player for the nomination. The Martinez machine controls much of the party apparatus. However, his loss to Dem Martin Heinrich in 2010 hurt. Dems also think he is weakened by news of his personal financial problems and by the overall tarnishing of the GOP brand the past year. We have to agree with them that the seat appears "Lean Dem," in a year when the presidential campaign will draw more moderate voters to the polls, but a strong GOP candidacy remains a potential threat.


In the race for the US Senate we begin 2012 wondering if Democrat Hector Balderas will go the distance in his duel with Rep. Martin Heinrich.

Insiders are watching every hair on Hector's head (Hold on. He's bald). Well, then let's say they're watching every step he takes as they assess whether he will take his campaign up to the March pre-primary convention and then get out and endorse Heinrich. The two term congressman--playing it like a steady Eddie--is the establishment favorite with the big money lead, but with soft support from Hispanics who are so important to taking the Dem nomination. Remember, Hector could use any money he has left from his Senate race for a 2014 contest for attorney general or even Governor.

Not much has changed in Hector's world since our initial analysis of the Hector-Heinrich battle way back when. He is behind and is faced with the unpleasant prospect of having to attack Heinrich to win. That is a major gamble for him in this race and for his future political career. Heinrich wants it so bad it brings to mind the line that he would run over his grandmother to get it. (Well, at least he wouldn't smile doing it). Hector wants it too, but unlike Heinrich he has future options. It's quite the balancing act for the youthful State Auditor who has bitten off a big branch from the tree of La Politica. His moment of truth is fast approaching.


Let's go to a Senior Alligator for a somewhat contrary view on the Hector-Heinrich match-up. He says it is balderdash to be talking about Balderas getting out of this race:

Balderas is now too strong for Heinrich to put away and his climb in the polls will accelerate after the legislative session. He is sweeping legislative endorsements and boots on the ground will turn the tide his way. And the polling--A stagnant 47.0 for Heinrich to a rising 30.0% for Balderas with 23.0% undecided is showing Heinrich as having support that is a mile wide and a foot deep.


Governor Martinez held her nose and buried the news, but in the end she had no choice but to appoint ABQ Dem attorney Linda Curtis to fill a very Republican state senate seat. This was the one left vacant in the ABQ NE Heights by Kent Cravens who resigned to take a job with the energy industry. For many it symbolized much of what is wrong with today's politics.

The Guv made the forced appointment late Friday heading into the long holiday weekend. That deprived Curtis of much publicity. Not that it would help her and not that Curtis isn't capable and qualified. But she will have to run for election to the seat this year and if she does, her chances of winning in this Demless area are about as good as finding enchiladas at a Chinese restaurant.

When she was sworn in Monday, R's turned up the temperature. The state party said:

Several dozen residents showing up to the swearing-in Monday to demand Curtis represent the needs of the district on the issue of repealing the law that gives driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

Since the seat contains portions of both Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, the county commissions there were charged with sending replacement names to the Guv. The long standing tradition has been for the commissions to recommend a replacement who comes from the dominant party in the district. But not in today's toxic political atmosphere.

Martinez doesn't get off the hook, either. Her political team has played the hardest of hardball when it comes to the Dem-controlled Legislature and that made it easier for the Dem-controlled commissions to give Curtis the nod and ignore precedent. Still, someone in politics has to take the high road or else it will soon be like old Route 66--a relic of the past.


Our unstinting coverage these past several years of the long term economic recession/depression afflicting New Mexico has won reader praise. We don't take any pleasure in imparting the usually dreary news, but we do believe in facing reality. And here's where we begin this first week of 2012:

New Mexico's employment base decreased 3.89 percent--32,600 nonfarm jobs--during the five year period (between November 2006 and November 2011. The drop ranks the Land of Enchantment No. 23 out of the 50 states and D.C....

The construction depression is a major culprit. And then there's the slowdown in government employment--the vertebrae of the New Mexican economy. The feds aren't hiring and neither are the state or ABQ governments.

And although you may have a good-paying job, this slowdown is hitting you in the pocketbook if you own your home. The latest median price for an ABQ home is a historically meager $160,000. Why? Because jobs drive housing and until we get the jobs, the housing market is going to languish and the value of your humble abode is likely to stagnate or drop further.

The good news is that we appear to have stabilized in terms of the revenue that is coming into the state and ABQ governments, but our economic recovery is snail-like and we don't see it becoming hare-like in 2012.


In 2011, our readers offered a wheelbarrow full of suggestions for the Legislature and Governor to get the economic wheels here spinning faster. And we continue to hear from them as we turn the calender in the new year. Jim McClure comes with this take on our calls for increasing state spending on promoting the state:

I'd like to see the state invest more in tourism because it's one of the few opportunities to build an economy on something other than government spending. Tourism is a natural for New Mexico because it does not require an educated workforce or business-friendly regulatory policies...What's needed is a comprehensive focus on tourism by multiple state agencies and private business groups.

One easy step would be to promote the RailRunner to tourists and and adjust its schedule during peak tourism periods. Last week my out-of-town guests decided not to take the train to Santa Fe because they would have had to leave early in the morning and return in the evening. (Where's Fred Harvey when we need him?). More advertising would certainly help, but we also need better coordination among government agencies and business groups to connect the dots on tourism.

Thanks, Jim. We're sure this is the first of what will be many ideas from our readers on how to make New Mexico an even better place in which to live and work.

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