Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

1-23 Opening Day at the Legislature

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- In what sounded like an opening day speech to a 60-day legislative session, Gov. Bill Richardson warned lawmakers to prepare for "relentless action."
New Mexico's 112 legislators knew this was going to be a busy session. The governor had joked for several weeks that this was going to be a 90-day session crammed into 30 days. During the week before the session began, he changed 90 days to 120 days.
That wasn't what lawmakers wanted to hear. All of them come to Santa Fe every year with something they want to accomplish. If the governor loads them up with time-consuming and expensive measures, little time or money is left for squeezing their own proposals on stage for a few minutes.
Gov. Richardson isn't the only one running for reelection this year. All 70 House seats also are up. And each of those incumbents would like to have something to take home and brag about.
So everyone will have to get down to business quickly and work very hard. That isn't bad, however, especially this year, when Congress has brought much criticism upon itself for accepting bribes.
Even Congress is talking about getting off to a roaring start. That is sure to happen with ethics legislation in an attempt to salvage a little of its reputation.
New Mexico also faces its own political scandal in the treasurer's office. Legislation to help prevent corrupt conduct by public officials is a sure thing.
But just when it will happen is another matter. Some legislative leaders are saying such a hot item should be delayed until next year's 60-day session.
The only subject that actually belongs in this short session is the state budget. Gov. Richardson barely even mentioned that subject in his opening address. Maybe, because the government is flush with oil and gas money this session, making a budget will be a snap.
But even though we suddenly have money for more than a 10 percent increase, everyone will have a reason for more than 10 percent going into their pet areas.
The competition will be even more fierce over dividing up almost a billion dollar increase in one-time spending. That money goes for special projects, such as capital construction.
Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle, of Portales, says his constituents, who previously have come to him with $600,000 to $700,000 local needs, now are coming in with $6 million and $7 million requests.
The session got off to a smooth start with Gov. Richardson giving the most polished speech of his career. He was relaxed, animated, well-rehearsed and upbeat.
He hammered on the promises he had made and kept, sounding exactly like someone who is running for office again. And not only is he running, he must win by an impressive margin to remain a player on the national stage.
Republican leaders will do everything they can to knock Richardson off that stage. Erudite former state GOP chairman John Dendahl has found forums to criticize Richardson's every move. And he will be effective.
Another creative Republican maneuver was to stage a response to the governor's annual State of the State address, similar to what happens at the national level.
Republican gubernatorial candidate, J.R. Damron, reserved the rotunda of the Capitol to deliver a rebuttal to Richardson's speech. It wasn't an official Republican response since Dr. Damron, at this point, will have GOP primary election opposition from George Bailey, a school teacher and minister from Edgewood.
Damron's speech was mostly generalities and personal attacks, but he did get into some of Richardson's initiatives, such as his jet airplane purchase, the very expensive commuter rail project and the spaceport.
Republican legislative leaders are beginning to line up behind the spaceport, but it appears their gubernatorial candidate and their most articulate spokesperson, Dendahl, will fight it tooth and nail.
MON, 1-23-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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