Thursday, January 26, 2012

Obama Heads West But Not Here; Is NM Safe For Him? Plus: Berry's Cross: Money For Paseo Rebuild, And: "Fighting Irishman" Looks To Sidestep Susana 

New Mexico Dems have reason to be increasingly confident about their 2012 election prospects and the reason resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. President Obama's rejuvenation--if that's what it turns out to be--could foil the R's hopes of picking up a couple of state House seats and taking control of the chamber. And they could also be denied the open ABQ congressional seat and the big prize--the open US Senate seat.

Obama gave a solid state-of-the-state speech, his probable GOP rival--Romney or Gingrich--both polled tepidly in New Mexico in a December survey.

The biggest "tell" on where the White House and the Dems think they stand in the state came on the heels of the President's Tuesday night speech, The next day he took off for Iowa, Michigan and our neighbors in Nevada Colorado and Arizona. New Mexico, often a crucial swing state in a presidential contest, was notably absent from Obama's stopover list. Obama strategists apparently see New Mexico's five electoral votes as pretty much nailed down:

...Of five paths that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina has charted to win re-election in November, all foresee winning Michigan, three require winning Iowa, two require Colorado and Nevada, and one has Arizona in the Obama win column. In 2008, of the five states he's visiting, Mr. Obama only lost Arizona, the home state of then rival John McCain.

Hispanic voters in particular seem poised to return the Obama fold in the wake of the Romney-Gingrich takeover. Neither contender are seen as having outsized appeal to state Hispanics, a key voting bloc here. And Obama's newfound populism could serve to pump turnout in liberal bastions like the SE Heights of ABQ and Santa Fe County.

In addition, we are told Washington GOP insiders remain cautious on their prospects for the Senate and ABQ House contest. While R's here are shouting down a poll from the Dem-favorable firm PPP, in DC they are much more realistic. They are not sneering about Dem Martin Heinrich's seven point lead over Republican Heather Wilson in that December survey. A strong Obama in New Mexico is only going to complicate matters when it comes time for the national R's to decide how much money to dedicate to a state that two years ago looked much more promising.

Will the Dem Legislature bail out the Republican ABQ mayor and approve millions of dollars of funds for a rebuild of the busy Paseo Del Norte-I-25 interchange? Why should they? Berry stepped in the manure pile last October when he refused to have a stand-alone vote on the Paseo bond money. Instead, if voters wanted Paseo they also had to vote for bond money for Berry's unpopular sportsplex proposal. As a result, Paseo went down in flames (62% to 38%) in an example of one of the worst political chess moves in recent city history.

Sure, the city council has since come with bond money and Governor Martinez is trying to help Berry out by asking the Legislature to put up $30 million to get the rebuild going and even the Bernalillo County Commission is getting in on the act. Commissioners approved $5 million for Paseo. But Berry lost important public support that could have helped him carry the day. The screw-up could cost him dearly. Democrats in Santa Fe can stall the funding and come October 2013 when Berry is seeking re-election, they can blame him for the Paseo traffic jams. Maybe Santa Fe gives Berry a token amount for the project so ABQ Dem legislators have political cover, but otherwise this is a golden opportunity to leave Berry hanging and twisting in the wind.


She's the talk of the town around here, but a national poll of Hispanics says more than half of them have
never heard of her. Fifty-one percent of the registered voters nationally did not know of Susana. That number grew to 57% in California.


The nation's energy chief, Dr. Steven Chu, drops in on ABQ today amid continued nervousness over long-term funding prospects for Sandia National Labs which falls under the Department of Energy umbrella. Even though the Labs get zinged on occasion for having a bunch of pampered scientists, the budget of over $2 billion a year is vital to the city's economy.

On Thursday Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will travel to Albuquerque to tour renewable energy research facilities at Sandia National Laboratories, which is working to advance industry collaboration on clean energy and advanced manufacturing. Secretary Chu will also host a State of the Union Town Hall with students at the University of New Mexico. Secretary Chu will be joined during the visit by U.S. Congressman Martin Heinrich.

Sandia and Los Alamos have good funding visibility for the rest of this calender year. It's what comes after the presidential election that is worrisome. And, yes, we noticed that Rep. Heinrich will be the lead politico with Chu. Sorry, Hector, but that's a federal incumbent's advantage.


ABQ Dem congressional candidate Eric Griego may be getting a bit ahead of himself with this statement:

It’s too bad then that Republicans in Washington and my Tea Party Republican opponent Dan Lewis continue to insist on policies that brought about the worst economic recession since the Great Depression and created the worst income inequality between the top 1% and the rest in our nation’s history.

Well, Dan Lewis is not yet anyone's opponent and Eric Griego is not yet the Dem nominee for the ABQ US House seat. Griego has two opponents as does Lewis. There's this little thing called the June primary to determine who will be the final two candidates for the November election. Maybe Eric's 2012 calender got lost in the mail.

Rep. O'Neill
He is in a district he hangs on to by a thread, and when ABQ Dem State Rep. Bill O'Neill defied the Republican Governor by voting against her bill to repeal driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, he felt her wrath and that of her operatives. They flooded his district with robocalls in hopes of softening him up for November. Now O'Neill, aka, "The Fighting Irishman," is looking for some armor for the next round of hits he will take on the emotional issue. His office reports:

State Representative Bill O’Neill, House District 15, introduced a bill today that represents the simplest and most effective solution to the volatile driver’s license issue. His bill, House Bill 171, calls for issuing a provisional driver’s license to foreign nationals who do not have a social security number.

Such an approach would solve the fraud problem instantly,” O’Neill said, “as the provisional license would not be valid outside of New Mexico. Therefore, individuals would not come here to take advantage of our current law. At the same time, the whole point of providing access to car insurance for these individuals would be safeguarded, which was the intent of the 2003 legislation.

That should help O'Neill when the Guv's guns are again fired his way, but is there any chance he will crack and move over to Susana's corner on this one? No, says O'Neill:

When Governor Martinez states that 74% of New Mexicans support her approach, she is wrong. 74% of New Mexicans want the fraud problem ended immediately, and my bill does precisely that.

In the redistricting boundaries approved by the court, O'Neill's district did not get much better for him, if at all. He's going to have to live up to his nickname to keep the seat and keep fighting.


The firestorm over the licenses continued this week with a robust rally against repeal held at the Roundhouse and the Associated Press coming with a widely distributed report raising questions about abuse of the system. For example, the report cited multiple licenses being issued to persons using an ABQ smoke shop as their address. The issue goes before a legislative committee today. State Senate Dems came with damage control in the hours following the AP report:

The current law must be strengthened to include provisions that clearly address the flaws. Repealing the law and forcing a fraction of the driving population to go without proper licensing, registration or insurance puts New Mexican families at risk. That is why in the last session we fought for a law that would directly address the challenges that we face. The compromise bill would have required license renewal every two years, required fingerprints in a database that would have been available to all departments of law enforcement and would have raised the penalties for those who knowingly provided false paperwork for foreign nationals...

There's no calling off the dogs now. The license repeal is expected to fail for the third time and then it goes to the political arena in the form of campaigning for the legislative races. If Martinez can't win passage of the repeal on her third try she will have to knock some legislators out in November if she is to have any credibility when she brings it up for a fourth time in 2013.

(What do you mean, a "fourth time," Joe? Hey, we've got a new slogan in New Mexico politics--"All Driver's Licenses, All The Time." )


Reader Jim McCaughey thinks Susana got a bad rap here Tuesday from the ProgressNow PAC who charged her with stifling the film industry:

Joe, Has anyone looked at the actual number for the film tax credits? First, the new $50 million cap on film rebates is a rolling cap, so a film maker can get all of the credits coming to him. It is just that some may be paid in the next fiscal year. 2010 was a down year, but 2011 was better Over $73 million in tax credits were paid out in 2011. The film industry had one of it's worst years at the box office last year. Other states have all cut back on film credits. New Mexico is still very competitive. Film makers are just not filming as much. The idea that Governor Martinez has killed the film industry all by herself is completely false.

And we might add the film industry here is far from dead. News recently broke that the Lone Ranger will film here, a production of more than $200 million.

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