Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Our Exclusive '17 Legislative Session Analysis From The Inside; All Angles Covered On The Politics At Play, Plus: Heinrich Hammered: Vote Against Importing Drugs From Canada Sets Off Social Media Firestorm  

Gov. Martinez will open the 2017 legislative session today with her State-of-the-State address in early afternoon. It will be streamed live by all the local TV stations. Democratic State Senator Joe Cervantes will then deliver a response which can be found here.

Welcome to our big Tuesday blog on the opening day of Legislative Session '17. The first order of business is complete analysis and insight on the politics awaiting this session. Here are the keen takes gathered across the political spectrum from those with decades of Roundhouse watching and which you have come to expect from NM Politics with Joe Monahan.

--Joe, this will be the last 60 day full session for Governor Martinez and her last real chance to try and leave behind something other than comparisons to Nero. Legend tells us Nero fiddled while Rome burned and Governor Martinez’s 6 years are mostly noteworthy for her fundraising prowess, high-end travels out-of-state, and her infamous partying ways. That and fighting to stop issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants and now issuing them driver “privilege cards” instead.

Our comment: That pretty much nails it. The only major legislation that we can see anyone remembering from the incumbent Governor ten years from now is her decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. And now that may not even last as the GOP-controlled Congress considers its repeal.

Joe, If the Governor has anything new in mind for 2017, she hasn’t said so to this point, and this session will be her roughest yet. Although she was once seen as a promising politician on the rise, the Governor and her handlers badly miscalculated last year’s election. After 6 years they haven’t built any solid legislative alliances or goodwill and have failed to gain any confidence of legislators from either party.

Our comment: No disagreement here. The Governor's party lost control of the House and lost seats in the Senate. And she and her political adviser have ripped to shreds the unity within the Republican caucuses of both chambers. The roughest yet? Yep.

Joe, In private it is the Republican legislators and leadership of her own party who are often the Governor’s harshest critics. Since the legislative session a year ago the NM Republican Party has been taken over by the Governor’s strongest adversaries within the state party. Without another election in her future, the Governor can no longer use the threat of fundraising for Republican primary opponents in order to hold together her bloodied tribe. The state Republican Party is not about to send her a lifeline and she’s not yet begged forgiveness from soon-to-be President Trump.

Our comment: They will begin to treat her like an afterthought, but she still has power. We don't see the votes in the House for overriding any possible vetoes she makes. At least not yet.

Joe, In the House, Republican Speaker Don Tripp read the writing on the wall and won’t bother sticking around after the opening Tuesday. Former Democratic House Speaker Ken Martinez has probably told Speaker Tripp what the view looks like from the back corner seat that the former Speaker occupied after he and the Dems lost the House in 2014.

Our comment: Neither Speaker Martinez or Speaker Tripp made much of a difference. Both conducted themselves with professionalism but their politics were mostly inconsequential in this era of decline (except, perhaps, when Speaker Martinez agreed to the ill-advised corporate tax cut to placate the Republican Governor).


Joe, Expect House Republicans to be especially surly this session. Before 2014 House Republicans had not tasted power since the Eisenhower years. For decades they were comfortably irrelevant and complacently waited for the dinner bell and a nice steak at the Bull Ring. Until 2014 they had no idea what they had been missing. But for the past two years House Republicans enjoyed chairmanships, big offices, larger staffs and they controlled the agendas in committees and the House chamber. Then came November, with the Governor’s approval ratings in the tank and her myopic obsession with defeating Sen. Michael Sanchez. As a result, the offices of House Republicans are now boxed up, and those members are headed back to cubby holes and shared offices in the Capitol annex.

Our comment: To the victors go the spoils. That never changes.

Joe, It will take House Republicans a couple of weeks to fully realize what they have lost. That’s how long it will take for their legislation to reach a first committee and where their bills will be tabled. By mid-session there should be practically no Republican legislation still moving in the House which is precisely what Republicans did to Democrats in committees the past two years. Certain Republican committee chairs and leaders, who were not magnanimous in victory after 2014, will now see harsh retribution.

Our comment: Payback is a bitch.

Joe, Because Republican agendas will be killed swiftly by House committees, there will be no floor drama this session. No debates over abortion, death penalty or union busting. The Governor will not even get to hear the House debate her crime agenda. House Judiciary is likely to be chaired by Rep. Gail Chasey, a strong opponent of hers.

Our comment: And who is going to be bothered by that? Most will be relieved.

Joe, The important House Appropriations Committee will have a new chair in Rep. Patty Lundstrom from Gallup. Few other Democrats in the House understand the budget like Lundstrom, and the Republicans on that committee will be happy to have the Dems doing the dirty work of cutting budgets.

Our comment: That's one good thing for the R's. They will let the Governor keep the blood on her hands while the lobbyists hound the Dem majority to spare their programs.

Joe, The Governor not only lost her Republican majority in the House in November, but Democrats also increased their numbers in the Senate. Instead of moving New Mexico toward Republicans and conservatism, the Governor’s singular focus on defeating Michael Sanchez ultimately assured a more progressive Legislature for the Governor’s final two years. It may now be impossible for the four conservative Senate Democrats to side with Republicans and prevail over the liberals with coalition votes.

Our comment: We're not sure about the Senate coalition being completely dead. How much footsie will new Senate Majority Leader Wirth play with those four conservative Dems who so often play with the R's? Stay tuned.


Joe, In the 2016 election Gov. Martinez misjudged and scorned President-elect Trump who may now not give her a ticket out of town. Trump made clear he believes Gov. Martinez is not up to the job here. Still, plenty of other prominent Republicans who were on the wrong side of Trump have been willing to grovel and swallow hard. We may see the Governor’s name, along with that of Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, answering D.C. help wanted ads. A female, Hispanic Republican is still a novelty item, and Trump might want to check off a few boxes with an ambassadorship to say…Uruguay.

Our comment: Uruguay?? Perfect!

Joe, If Santa Fe is seen in a historic context this will be an entirely new day. For the first time in recent memory the Legislature will not rely on the once dominant patron system for power and leadership. With his brother Michael Sanchez as the Senate Majority Leader and controlling the daily agenda, former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez continued to exercise considerable influence as a lobbyist--despite his own defeat years ago. That will now change.

Our comment: Any objections?

Joe, The big mystery this session is whether Republican legislators will continue to stand with the Governor while she begins to amputate limbs after already cutting state government to the bone.

 With the Governor’s low approval rating in the polls (36 percent in SurveyUSA) and the alternative being employee furloughs or shuttering state services and schools, it’s possible Republican Legislators will put aside partisan loyalty and consider overriding a Gov. Martinez veto. Otherwise, Republican legislators will have to do what the Governor seems intent on doing, which is to leave the state’s fiscal mess for someone else to clean up after she manages a quiet exit stage left.

Our comment: The radicalizing of the GOP on the tax issue---never raise taxes, no matter what--leads us to believe the veto override is improbable. They would rather make more cuts which their conservative constituencies will not take as hard as those in Dem dominated districts.

Yep. That pretty much nails Session '17. Now sit back and enjoy the Governor's State-of-the-State address. And if it gets under your skin, just smile and think "Uruguay!"


Senator Martin Heinrich was scorched on social media following his controversial vote against a measure aimed at lowering prescription drug prices by allowing the drugs to be imported into the USA from Canada and other countries. The howls grew so loud that there were rumblings that a fellow Democrat should primary Heinrich when he seeks his second six year term in 2018.

Much the cacophony came from supporters of Vermont Senator and onetime presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who pushed the measure. Heinrich didn't have to wait long for a dressing down,  Reader Mike Folsom opined:

Not sure what Martin was thinking when he cast his vote against the amendment to allow US citizens to import drugs from Canada but because of Facebook everybody saw it. Now we all know that he has sold out to Big Pharma. The argument that this is a safety issue is just so much bullshit - it is protecting drug company profits and political corruption of the first order. I hope Martin got lots of dollars for supporting drug companies over New Mexico voters because he may need them. He needs to be called out for stabbing us all in the back!

According to OpenSecrets.org, Heinrich has received over $150,000 from the pharmaceutical industry and associated individuals since 2011 as he gathers cash for his '18 campaign kitty. He and the other opponents of the measure argued that drugs from Canada and other nations do not meet FDA standards and it would be unsafe to let them come in here. Said the freshman Senator:

I have been fighting for years to allow the federal government to use its negotiating power to secure cheaper prescription drugs and I support importation if we can ensure FDA safety standards to protect consumers.

But, as we said, that pacified few of the supporters. For example:

National Nurses United sharply criticized 13 Senate Democrats who defeated an amendment that would have aided tens of millions of patients struggling with skyrocketing prescription drug costs, voting instead to ally with the pharmaceutical industry. "This vote is a disgraceful betrayal of every patient and consumer in America,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of NNU.

Blog reader Deryle chimed in:

Why did Heinrich take the side of big pharma and the neoliberals on this one? From here, he's starting to look increasingly like a citizen of DC these days.

Heinrich's vote came the same week Heinrich was vociferously attacking the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare. But his critics pounced asking whether most New Mexicans also support Canadian drug imports which would lower their health care costs?

The kicker is that 11 Republican senators, including several of the most conservative voted for the amendment which failed on a 52-46 vote (even Ted Cruz voted in favor).

Heinrich has earned a reputation for being overcautious but he may have overdone it on this one.  Cynics will argue that it takes millions to get re-elected and that was the primary motivation for Heinrich's vote. Unfortunately, for Heinrich, when you have fellow NM Dem Senator Tom Udall voting for the same measure the cynical argument carries even more weight.

The outburst over Heinrich received hardly any mainstream media coverage but his vote could loom large in his upcoming Senate race--whether he is heavily favored or not.

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