Monday, April 27, 2015

Life In the Old Gal Yet? ABQ City Council Finds Some Hind Legs, Plus: Heinrich Redux, And: Haaland Is New Dem Chair; Now What? 

Councilors Lewis & Harris
Maybe there’s life in the old gal yet. That’s the takeaway from the ABQ City Council’s 7 to 2 vote to hold the APD federal monitor's feet to the fire. Five Dems led by Council President Rey Garduno were joined by two of the council’s four R’s—Dan Lewis and Don Harris—in refusing to approve (for now) a $4.5 million four-year contract with monitor James Ginger because of concerns about the agreement. It was a rare occasion of the council breaking with the Mayor Berry administration and inserting itself into policy when it comes to the long-running APD crisis.

While the action seemed extraordinary because of the way the council has mostly hibernated during the mayhem that has surrounded APD, it was actually quite ordinary for the legislative branch—on equal footing with the mayor—to inject its concerns. It’s finally letting it be known that it too wants a seat at the table in resolving a matter that has given ABQ numerous national black eyes and demoralized APD officers.

Allies of the Mayor immediately criticized the seven councilors, saying their action was merely symbolic—that the federal judge monitoring the monitor and the city administration will have the final say over Ginger's contract. But symbolism should not be underestimated.

Berry, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, APD Chief Gorden Eden and federal monitor Ginger have treated the council as an aside. Anyone familiar with the history of the nine member panel knows it is much more than a wall flower, even if the current crop of councilors has let its muscles atrophy. The 7 to 2 vote had the council finally doing some of the heavy lifting that is needed to renew confidence in APD and city government. Welcome back, councilors, please visit often.


Dem US Sen. Martin H Heinrich had a nice little bounce back in the headlines in the aftermath of his embarrassment for being busted for violating Senate rules by using office money to reimburse himself for personal commutes. While the R’s were relishing that, Heinrich upset their apple cart with a proposal that would allow the Feds to approve the siting of power lines if the state and local governments don’t decide on such proposals within a year. It's aimed at improving the electric grid and promoting solar and wind power.

That brought howls from GOP Gov. Martinez and GOP Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Jr. who wailed that local governments, not DC, know what's best. That reaction is actually good for Heinrich whose enviro credentials are solid and make up a good chunk of his support among base Dems. Martinez and Dunn are playing to their oil company base but from a statewide perspective, Heinrich takes this battle. The states rights advocates are a smaller slice of the pie, coming from the least populous counties. Meantime, support for renewable energy continues to grow, something we're sure Heinrich is mulling over during those pesky commutes.


The New Mexican Democratic Party has never been so flat on its back. Part of the reason is the new campaign money laws that bypass parties in favor of mega-bucks PACS, but it is also a function of AWOL leadership. Bombastic Sam Bregman promised to bring a "storm” to Gov. Martinez but he soon petered out and what was to be a storm turn out to be what New Mexico farmers call virga—rain that never reaches the ground.

The silence of Sam will be noted no more as the party's chairmanship baton has been handed off to Debra Haaland. The 2014 Dem lieutenant governor nominee won it at Saturday's ABQ meeting of the Dem Central Committee, defeating former Santa Fe County Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg 214 to 168 (56%-44%). So now what? . . .

Haaland is going to have to put some vitality into the moribund party which in recent years has been devastated by twice losing the governorship, handing the state House to the Republicans for the first time in 60 years and losing the normally Democratic offices of secretary of state and land commissioner. The Dems failure to effectively fight the governor's political machine has the R’s eyeing possible gains in the Dem-controlled state Senate in 2016, despite a higher turnout in the presidential year when Dems can be expected to fare better.

As our analysts have said repeatedly about state politics, all the passion and purpose has been on the Republican side. Haaland, the first Native American to hold the chairmanship, has to somehow connect with a turned off Democratic base of middle and low income voters. Their apathy has resulted in turnout crashes in in the off year elections and possibly a downturn next year.

The Dems need to start acting like a party out-of power and not simply waiting for the GOP storm to pass. Bregman had it right. The Dems have to cause a storm for the R’s but he was the wrong weatherman. Now it’s Haaland's turn.

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