Monday, March 23, 2015

Susana Digs Heels In Deeper As She Starts National Drive, Gentry's Play On Sanchez Raises Question, The Debacle Over The Capital And Our Winners And Losers Of Session '15 

(Journal photo)
Susana Martinez is digging her high heels even deeper into the dirt in her second term. When three state senators made a ceremonial appearance at her office at the end of the legislative session Saturday to inform her that their work was concluded, they were surrounded by her aides as she intensely berated them for the session's failures. ABQ Dem Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino said:

She was so angry. It really had the feeling of a dictator who had been thwarted.

At a post-session news conference Martinez lashed out at the Senate Democrats over the failure of a capital outlay bill and a tax cut package. She blamed them entirely for the do-nothing session. In turn, Martinez was blamed by her critics, with one of them on social media deriding her as the "Queen of Nothing."

It was yet another legislative session that went bust and even veteran wall-leaners seem fatigued. Says one:

It was the usual trainwreck. It's hard to care anymore.

She's right. Santa Fe's sessions--never compelling to the public at-large--seem even more insular, much more an insider ballgame and less relevant with flat budgets and no big ideas. And the quality of debate is suffering. The turnover in the House has been so great the past few years that newbie legislators are everywhere and they often simply don't know what they are talking about.

All of that--combined with a no-compromise mentality--has longtime journalists like Walt Rubel of the Las Cruces Sun-News sick of the entire affair. He said on Twitter:

At the start of (the final) week I wanted to see if the Legislative session was as bad as I thought. It's worse.

The irony is that there are more news outlets than ever covering the session's every second but they are talking mostly to themselves. Just look at the crash in voter turnout. The state awaits something new after this dour 60 day exercise. It has a long wait.


We asked how many days after the session it would be before Martinez left the state to pursue her national ambitions.  No one would have won betting on that because it was literally only hours after adjournment that she was on a plane headed to a Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida. Such meetings are usually accompanied by high powered fund-raisers and numerous political pow wows. When Gov. Richardson ran for president he also often traveled out of state. It cost him a good chunk of his popularity. . .

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry made a point of repeating this phrase at the end of the session: "Michael Sanchez failed New Mexico." Sanchez, of course, is the state senate majority leader, but that's not well-known throughout the state.

The Gentry phrase was reminiscent of 15 years ago when the GOP demonized powerful legislative leaders Manny Aragon and Raymond Sanchez. There's enough room to ask if Gentry's play on Sanchez was a play on ethnic politics. Whatever the case, Gentry has put a target on his back. Even if the polling shows it to be a long shot, Sanchez and the Dems will likely run a vigorous race against Nate in 2016. . .


The session ended with that debacle over $264 million in capital outlay funds that could have stimulated an economy sorely in need of a shot in the arm. That money will now be added to an immense pile of capital outlay funds that according to State Auditor Tim Keller is just sitting there unspent. It was last put at $1.2 billion. And much of it, Keller says, could legally be reallocated and spent. So what to do?

Veteran GOP consultant and pollster Bruce Donisthorpe comes with one of the more constructive proposals we've heard:

It's time the Legislature put a sunset clause on capital outlay funds. If they haven't been put to use after four or five years, the projects they are designated for would not get them. The Legislature could reallocate the money and spend it on other projects or place it in the general fund.

Legislators love their pork but what good is the bacon when it's frozen? A bipartisan effort with the support of the Governor to get that bacon in the frying pan would be most welcome to job-seeking New Mexicans who could build the bridges and make the repairs much of that money is for.


Time to tote up some winners and losers from Legislative Session '15 so let's go.

Winner--State Senate Democrats get into the winner's circle because they played good defense, and after the Republicans this year took control of the House for the first time in 60 years that was essential if they were to stop the non-compromise GOP agenda. Their determination especially showed in the defeat of the heavily hyped right-to-work bill and the rejection of Matt Chandler, an attorney with close political ties to Martinez, as a University of New Mexico regent. Now the senate Dems--who seem to be learning that they can win battles when they fight--have to do it all over again next year.

Loser--ABQ Mayor RJ Berry dropped the ball when it came to persuading the Legislature to help solve his APD problems by allowing officers to engage in the prohibited practice of double-dipping. That would allow an officer to collect a state retirement check while also working full-time. Berry argued that it would make meeting hiring goals for APD easier but he seemed to be the only one in the senate committee room surprised when the bill burst into flames and sent ashes to the floor.

Winner--Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez chalks up a win, in part, because of Berry's implosion on double-dipping. Speculation has it that Berry could challenge Sanchez for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2018. In addition, Sanchez has become agile at doing his main job of presiding over the state Senate. He showcases a conciliatory, inclusive personality. When Gov. Martinez is done with her eight years the electorate may hunger for those character traits.

Loser--Democratic Senator Phil Griego was the biggest loser of the session. He actually lost his seat when he was forced to resign over an ethical breach. Losing is one thing but being banished from the game is the ultimate defeat.

Winner--The dreaded payday loan industry that charges ridiculously high interest rates (north of a mind-boggling 1,000 percent) to mostly low-income consumers is treated like a long lost friend in Santa Fe. The bills to rein in the industry were among the first to meet their demise in the 60 day session. The reason? The industry hired a dozen or so high-powered lobbyists. That still works at the capitol and shows how far there is to go in making government work for common folk.

Loser--This might be controversial but Gov. Martinez ends up in the loser's circle--unless you think she doesn't mind being there. All of her major initiatives such as third grade retention and right-to-work went nowhere. And she refused to sign on to a compromise over the repeal of driver's licenses for undocumented workers that even most senate Republicans wanted. Still, with the exception of right-to-work, this is the same agenda that has been defeated every year since Martinez became governor. She managed a big re-election win last year and if her agenda stays unfulfilled she will use the defeat in 2016 to urge voters to elect more Republican Senators.

And the biggest disconnect? The Census Bureau announced in September that in 2014 the poverty rate had spiked to include nearly 22 percent of the state's population. Only Mississippi was higher. While the news delivered an unwelcome jolt, that didn't seem to be the case at the Merry Roundhouse. A bill to repeal daylight saving time inspired engaged and lengthy debate while that sorry report went mostly unmentioned.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author
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