Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Opening Day: Who Is The Most Important Person At The Roundhouse? Plus: Want Bold Change? Let The Blog Give You Some, And: Senate Pro Tem Battle Goes Down To Wire  

  • Senator Mary Kay Papen was elected the new Senate President Pro Tem on a unanimous vote of the Senate Tuesday afternoon. She was nominated by Senator Pete Campos, who was the official choice of the Democratic caucus, but was unable to overcome Papen's Republican support that was combined with a number of her fellow Democrats. There was no roll call vote. AP report here.
Who is the most important person at the Santa Fe Roundhouse as the 60 day legislative session kicks off today? The Governor? The Senate Majority Leader? The Speaker of the House? For sure, they are important, but our vote goes to the guy or gal who is in charge of the hand sanitizer.

The Roundhouse, always a germ factory, may be even more so as the session in the middle of a widely publicized flu outbreak.

Legislators, you better wash up after all those welcoming handshakes or you could miss the action to come.

They say nearly a third of the 112 Senators and Representatives are newbies so they haven't built up immunity to the Roundhouse germs, unlike the grizzled veterans up there. But the good news is the fresh faces also haven't yet built up immunity to listening to the people. We've got their ear at least until they get one re-election under their belt. After that, you have to send out a search party to find most of them.


Back to the opening day action....There might be a few state Senators who would love nothing better than to miss the action today and not have to cast a vote in that contest for Senate president pro tem that is is being waged by Dona Ana County Senator Mary Kay Papen--who is teaming with the Republicans--and Las Vegas State Senator Pete Campos, the choice of the Democratic caucus. All 42 members are expected to be in the chamber for the important vote. Or maybe someone will plead the flu as their excuse?

The pro tem vote will be taken when the Legislature convenes at high noon. Later the Governor delivers her annual state-of-the-state address.

Don't want to rush to Walgreen's for hand sanitizer or drive up the snowy road to Santa Fe? No problem. The floor action and the Guv's speech will be broadcast at the Legislature's web site.


The deal making on that pro tem position is going down to the wire.

The Senate Dem caucus met at the capitol Monday afternoon and will caucus again this morning before the opening of the session.

The race is not over. Talks continued through the afternoon and into the evening. The senators on the fence and key to the outcome were reported to you on Monday's blog. 

By the way, supporters of Papen say she is not a conservative--but a moderate. We see it both ways. She is conservative because the raison d'être of her pro tem candidacy is to protect the conservative chairman of Senate Finance. However, her voting record on a number of issues is indeed moderate. And Campos, it has been pointed out, is not exactly a flaming liberal. Like Mary Kay, he has a mixed political pedigree. (Hat tip to journalist Sherry Robinson for prompting us on the topic).

Both Campos and Papen have given long service to the state--with integrity--and we wish both of them well as they stand before the Senate today.


We'll track the Senate leadership battle and the Guv's speech via our Twitter account and provide an update here as well. If something interesting happens, we'll throw in some flash analysis.


You say Susana campaigned on a pledge of "bold change" but is taking only baby steps as the state continues its steep and deep economic and social decline? Okay...We hear you.

Susana, here's some stuff you might have forgotten to put in your state-of-the-state speech today. The good news is you still have time for a rewrite :)

--Capital outlay (or construction spending). Let's get serious and put people back to work in the most downtrodden section of our economy. Approve capital outlay bills of $500 million financed by bonds. Keep the projects big--maybe four--one for each section of the state. That's a lot of hammers hitting nails and paychecks being collected and spent.

--The Spaceport--oh, so promising. But it may already be dead, according to the Roundhouse pessimists. Guv, get a bill up to your desk in the first week of the session. Bang some heads together. Forge a compromise with the trial lawyers and send it down to the House and Senate. Get them to act fast--and now. That project is a big hope for the jobs future here, but even if we get the liability bill we need, we may have killed it through foot-dragging. Guv, you don't want the death of the Spaceport to be your legacy. It will look real bad in your obit.

--Tourism. The Guv seems to agree with a $2.5 million increase in the state tourism budget. Let's quadruple down and make that $10 million. Advertising works. Tourists will come. They will spend money at our businesses that employ our people, Besides, this is a beautiful place to visit. (While you're at it, Susana, you can triple the funds you are asking for job training. We agree with former Lt. Governor Denish that in this environment we need all we can get).

--A one percent pay increase for state workers who haven't had a raise in four or five years. What are we arguing about? This is basically symbolic. The Governor and the legislators are the employers of the state work force. If they want the slide in morale to be slowed, this is the least they can do.

(Okay, the few folks making over $100,000 a year don't have to get a pay raise. That's symbolism for you, Guv)

--Commission a study for building a dental school at the University of New Mexico. Do the same for a veterinary school. We need to train New Mexicans for the professional jobs of the future. We built succcessful medical and law schools. Let's get on with it. (The vet school would go to NMSU in Cruces)

--Get tougher on Medicaid fraud. The Guv has agreed to the Federal expansion of the state-run Medicaid program (thanks again, Guv) and that will be an economic spark plug, but treasury watchdogs have a solid point about waste and fraud. Combating fraud will also build political support for the needed health program that serves hundreds of thousands of low-income New Mexicans.

--Driver's licenses. Will someone in Santa Fe please wave a magic wand and make driver's licenses for undocumented workers please go away? Repeal them or modify them. Just do something and get this wedge issue off the agenda. It does nothing but divide us and hog valuable time and space. Enough already. Do something.


Capitol newsman Milan Simonich says anger over the Guv's intervention in key legislative races this past November looms over the Roundhouse on this opening day....

Senator Tim Jennings lost his seat after a bitter campaign in which he was targeted by the Guv and her political team. The longtime lawmaker bid farewell to Santa Fe Monday. He was given a fond farewell...

Like father like son. Today State Rep. Ken Martinez of Grants, an attorney, follows in his father's footsteps and becomes Speaker of the New Mexico House. They are big footsteps. Walter Martinez is remembered fondly by old timers and known in history as an effective Speaker.

Kenny, 53, got ahead of himself when a number of years ago he tried to topple House Speaker Ben Lujan. But it all worked out in the end. He will need to remember how tough Speaker Lujan could be because the R's and their Guv can be a tough bunch.

Congratulations to Speaker Martinez (and to new House Minority Leader Don Bratton of Hobbs). Fellas, try to smile at least twice a day and take deep breaths at least three times a day.


Steve Terrell, Stuart Dyson, Deborah Baker, Barry Massey, Milan Simonich, Walt Rubel and Trip Jennings. Those are the veteran state news reporters we try to keep up with during a session. There are many other worthwhile ones you will see, hear and read.


That bill to hold back third graders who aren't reading at their grade level? It's back on the Governor's agenda and headed once again for the ash heap, says a key Republican lawmaker:

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, an early supporter, said though compromise was almost struck last year, there are so many new faces in the New Mexico Legislature this year that the bill’s chances are unknown. “There is still a lot of opposition to that particular bill, and it is going to be difficult to pass that.” 


Thanks to the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association and the Albuquerque Press Women, all groups we spoke before recently in preparation for the legislative session. Enjoyed being with all of you....

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