Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Mexico's Early Christmas Present: We Get Spot On Top Senate Money Panel With Udall Appointment; Heinrich Also Scores, Plus: A Stunner From "Dr. No": Powerful Senate Finance Chair Says It Appears His Run Has Ended, But Maybe Not 

Udall & Heinrich
New Mexico has received an early Christmas present and if it's played right it could mean billions under our state tree in the years ahead. Oh, yeah, it also could make the 2014 US Senate race here a ho-hum affair.

We blog of the appointment of Senator Tom Udall to the Senate Appropriations Committee--a key panel in dispensing federal largess--the stuff that keeps the economy ticking here and which has been seriously threatened by the ongoing budget cutting debate on the banks of the Potomac.

Udall is only in his fourth year of a six year term so the appointment is a coup. And, boy, does this state need one. Los Alamos and Sandia Labs are funded to the tune of over $4 billion a year. Then there's the military bases, including Kirtland in ABQ. This town would blow away with the tumbleweeds if KAFB shut down--and with Udall perched on appropriations, the chances of that happening are close to nil. Layoffs at Los Alamos have already hit and now Udall may be able to stop the bleeding.

Udall, criticized by the Republicans for being a lightweight, suddenly looks a lot heftier than he did a couple of days ago. This appointment gives him power on the #1 issue facing the state--the economy and jobs. He has carved out a reputation by trying to reform the Senate filibuster rule. It has won him a lot of good press, but not necessarily much political punch back home. This appointment fills in the blanks and makes him that much more formidable for re-election in 2014.

Republicans are going to have a tougher time making a case against Udall now that he sits on the committee from which former GOP US Senator Pete Domenici held forth and protected the state's economic interests. Not that they are lined up to take him on. Only former NM GOP Chairman Allen Weh is expressing serious interest. The appointment may chase away other R's contemplating a challenge. Did we say "may?" Let's amend that to "will" chase away prospective opponents. Allen, get your running shoes on. It looks like you may be "it."

Soon-to-be Senator Martin Heinrich also scored for the state when the Senate Santa passed out committee posts. He landed a slot on energy, always a committee vital to this state's interests and the one which outgoing NM Senator Bingaman chaired for a number of years. Domenici was also a member of that panel. Congressman Heinrich had talked of getting on Senate Armed Services. He serves on the House version of that committee, but energy will give him an even broader portfolio and entree into the budget for the state's national labs.

Heinrich will also serve on the Intelligence and Joint Economic Committees--solid assignments for the newcomer.

The bottom line to these appointments is that they put New Mexico in a position to fight--something the state's business and political elites have shied away from. Now they have some leadership to rally around.

Udall now is set to continue the 70 year legacy of New Mexico Senators Chavez, Anderson and Domenici in safeguarding the state as a repository for America's national security. There's just no other way to say it--the timing on this is perfect.

In addition to appropriations, Udall will take up spots on the Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works, Indian Affairs and Rules and Administration Committees. That's a lot of territory, but then he will be the state's "senior" Senator once Bingaman leaves next month.

Nicely done Senator Udall and Senator-elect Heinrich. Now, make sure you deliver or next year it's a lump of coal in your stockings.


Udall's statement on his appropriations appointment:

A seat on the Appropriations Committee is very meaningful for New Mexico. From the labs, to the military bases and our public lands, we have a large federal presence in our state. I have no illusions about the difficult economic times and budgetary constraints our nation is facing, and I am eager to do my best and defend New Mexico through the appropriations process.

Blogger & Ben Ray in DC
It was a banner day for our congressional delegation. Northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan piled on the good news bandwagon, coming with this announcement:

Congressman Ben Ray Luján was named to the House Energy and Commerce Committee...Luján, who will be entering his third term in the House of Representatives, will begin serving on the committee at the start of the 113th Congress in January. 

“I am honored to have this opportunity to represent the interests of New Mexico...This opportunity will enable me to build on my work..on issues from consumer protection to energy...New Mexico is poised to be leader in a clean energy economy, and this assignment will provide New Mexico with an important voice in the discussion of how we move forward toward this critical goal.

So we have Heinrich on Senate Energy, Lujan on House Energy and Udall on Senate Appropriations. This is excellent positioning for a small state of two million that is losing so much congressional seniority.

Ben Ray did not mention that House Energy is also important to Los Alamos Labs which is in his district.


Senator Smith
My, how the wheel is turning as a result of the November election. Listen to this one, kids. The mighty chairman of the State Senate Finance Committee---Senator John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith told a meeting of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute Wednesday that it is unlikely he will retain the chairmanship when the Legislature next meets in January.

The stunning announcement was confirmed by several persons in attendance--including institute director Richard Anklam--and had jaws dropping in the room.

Smith, 74, is one of the most powerful legislators in recent state history. The Deming lawmaker's conservative outlook has frustrated liberals but satisfied the right. However, Senator Pete Campos was nominated by the Senate Democratic caucus over the weekend to become Senate President Pro Tem. That's the position that essentially determines Senate committee assignments.

My top sources say Smith's announcement refers to the possibility of Senator Carlos Cisneros, vice-chairman of Senate finance, being named chairman by Campos. It was Cisneros who nominated Campos at the caucus for the Pro Tem post. My Alligators report the two men drove to the Belen meeting together.

Campos is on track to take the prize, but still faces possible opposition when the position is voted on Jan. 15 by the entire Senate.

But then comes State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez to say that Smith should stay on as chair! From the ABQ Journal:

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said Wednesday that he thinks conservative-leaning Senate Finance Committee chairman John Arthur Smith should continue in the post when the Legislature convenes in January. “I believe he’s the best person for that position,” Sanchez said. “He has kept us on track in time where we’ve needed direction,” the influential Belen Democrat said. “He’s been that person that has guided us in the right direction. I think he’s a great Finance chairman. I don’t always agree with him on everything, but he’s done great.” Smith, a fiscally conservative Democrat from Deming and a key player in shaping New Mexico’s budgets since 2008, had said earlier  he expected to be pushed out of the finance post by new Democratic leadership in the Senate.

Sanchez's unflinching support for Smith is sure to upset the Democratic base. Why, they will ask, is not Sanchez letting nonconservative Dems take power in the chamber? What was the point of the election?

But does anyone really know what the quirky Sanchez really believes or is up to? He has played his cards close to his vest and even the public statement of support of Smith can't be taken at face value. Maybe he's just trying to block the R's from forming a coalition with conservative Dems and who would use the prospective Smith ouster as a rallying cry. But we did report that Sanchez was not a Campos supporter for Pro Tem, instead pushing for Senator Lopez. Maybe he's comfortable with Smith and the status quo--unlike much of the Dem base.

Meanwhile, Senator Campos did not make a forceful statement over Smith:

Campos in an email said he met with Smith last week and “indicated my support for him to remain as Senate Finance chairman.”

Again, you can hear the footsteps of a possible coalition threatening Campos in that statement.

The implications of Smith no longer chairing finance are enormous for state economic and budget policy. Santa Fe has been locked in a mindset of fiscal austerity, even as the state is starved for capital and job creation lags the entire nation. A Senate Finance Committee without Smith as chairman opens the door to a major policy shift--one that will be sternly resisted by the fiscal conservatives who run the Department of Finance and Administration as well as those who surround GOP Governor Martinez.

As for Smith, a real estate appraiser, who has been in the Senate since 1989, he performed brilliantly when there were times of plenty, repeatedly pulling away the punch bowl as the party got too wild. But now the populace is turning in a more centrist direction--as witnessed by the recent election--and Smith has stayed static.

Smith appears to be looking for reassurances about his standing by making the public statement that he could be on his way out. The Sanchez support is critical, but not conclusive. Let's see what happens come next month.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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