Inside the Capitol

Thursday, March 30, 2006

4-12 attachment

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Let's take a look, today, at some of the more intriguing House races around the state.
Luciano "Lucky" Varela of Santa Fe is running for his 11th term. Usually he is unopposed, but this time, he has two tough Democrat primary opponents -- Ouida MacGregor, a former city councilor, and Andrew Perkins, a CPA and treasurer of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party.
How did that happen? Varela first decided to run for state treasurer, which meant giving up his House seat. Then he changed his mind and by that time four strong Democrats were in the race for his House seat.
Two dropped out when Varela dropped in -- Santa Fe Mayor Larry Delgado and hospital union official Elizabeth "Dolly" Lujan. The icing on that cake was the immediate endorsement of Varela by Lujan's union.
But Varela still is left with a race in which he will have to break a sweat for the first time in many years. If he does that, he's a good bet to win many more terms.
Varela says he got back in his House race because that is what people asked him to do. That would be the diplomatic people. Others are said to have told him their fears that the thought of one more unknown Hispanic in the treasurer's office would not sell well to voters.
There won't even be a race in the district being vacated by Rep. Sandra Townsend of Aztec. The only person to file was fellow Republican Paul Bandy, a rancher who sells hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef. I'm "green as grass" Bandy, says.
That wouldn't normally be what you'd expect to hear from a Republican candidate but the San Juan County GOP chairman calls Bandy a "perfect fit" for the heavily Republican district.
Then again, Bandy may fit the mold of a previous occupant of that seat, rancher Tweeti Blancett, who didn't always follow the Republican line when she was in the state House. She now fights with gas drillers, whom she claims, misuse her grazing land. Bandy also is in that group.
Rep. Townsend, who is leaving the seat, has had her problems with the state GOP, resulting in Republican challengers every election. Bandy may want to savor this one free ride to his seat. He realizes it is very unusual for a rookie to be unopposed, but says maybe it is because the job doesn't pay anything and every time you vote someone gets mad at you.
In Rio Arriba County where they take their politics seriously, Rep. Debbie Rodella is being challenged again by former county commissioner Moises Morales. It shouldn't be too tough a battle for Rodella. But she has undergone some embarrassing publicity lately.
In late February, State Police Chief Carlos Maldonado unexpectedly retired "for personal reasons." A few days later, KRQE-TV reported that Maldonado was forced to retire after the husband of a state legislator produced evidence of an affair between his wife and the chief.
A month later, Espanola's Rio Grande Sun revealed that it had obtained records of Maldonado's state-issued cell phone calls showing that he had phoned Rodella at least 19 times during the four months before his retirement.
KRQE didn't reveal the identity of its source or of the legislator. The Sun can't say that Maldonado and Rodella weren't discussing business. But it does say many of the calls were not during business hours.
Rep. Rodella's husband, Tommy, is running for magistrate judge, a position from which he stepped down when Gov. Bill Richardson, who had appointed him, learned of Rodella's questionable handling of a case and of his departure as a state policeman a few years ago after numerous controversial incidents.
With melodrama like that in real life, there's no reason to watch the soaps on television. Just read the papers.
WED, 4-12-06

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


4-12 Political Oddities

I will be out of the office tomorrow. Back on Monday and then gone April 4-29.  I'm taking my laptop so should be able to keep up with columns and correspondence. My cell number is 505-699-9982.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

4-10 PRC Races to be Lively

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Some of the more interesting regional races this year will be those for the Public Regulation Commission, which regulates public utilities, transportation and insurance.
Until 1998, those contests were statewide and it was called the state Corporation Commission. But that commission's duties were combined with the appointed Public Utilities Commission to create the present PRC with five districts. The hope was that the new body would eliminate the turmoil that raged with the SCC but it hasn't happened.
So now, instead of preprimary nominating conventions deciding who will be on the statewide ballot, any candidate can get on by submitting nominating petition signatures and many are taking advantage of it.
In the northwest region of the state, five Democrat candidates are vying to replace Lynda Lovejoy in a district created to give Indian candidates an advantage. Lovejoy is Navajo from Crownpoint.
Those who wish to replace Lovejoy, all Democrats, are Carol Sloan of Gallup, Derrith Watchman-Moore of Navajo, Andrew Leo Lopez and Steve Gallegos of Albuquerque and Louis E. Gallegos of Santa Fe.
Watchman-More is an environmental scientist who recently resigned as deputy secretary of the state Environment Department in order to run. Previously she worked for the Navajo Nation. Steve Gallegos is a former Albuquerque city councilor and county commissioner. Louis E. Gallegos is a former member of the state Corporation Commission.
Two Democrats are vying to challenge Commissioner David King, now a Republican, in the southeastern New Mexico district. They are Stephanie DuBois of Tularosa and Joseph Calderon of Hobbs. King is a former Democrat state Treasurer and nephew of former Gov. Bruce King. The district leans heavily Republican.
In the most exciting of the three PRC races, one Democrat and three Republicans want to unseat E. Shirley Baca of Las Cruces. Baca caught the nation's attention in late 2004 when she was arrested at the Albuquerque Sunport on marijuana and drug paraphernalia charges. The charges later were dropped but the damage may have been done.
Baca's Democrat opponent will be Sandy Jones of Williamsburg, chairman of the state Fair Commission. On the Republican side are Kent Evans and Doyle Pruitt of Las Cruces and Earl Greer of Truth or Consequences.
Evans is a Dona Ana County commissioner. Greer was a candidate to take over the 2nd Congressional District when Rep. Joe Skeen retired. He put up a very good website for that 2002 primary race. He didn't win that one, but saved the website and has it up again, the only one for any state or regional Republican candidate.
This southwest New Mexico PRC district can go either way. Baca is a Democrat and Tony Shaefer was a Democrat at the end of his term. But Shaefer originally was elected as a Republican in 1998.
Much less exciting regional races will be run for the five vacant seats on the 10-member Public Education Commission. This commission replaced the state Board of Education in the constitutional amendment that created the Public Education Department and put New Mexico's public schools under the governor rather than an independent board.
This commission, although elected, serves only in an advisory capacity. The lack of interest in the body is evident from the fact that only one person filed for three of the positions and no one filed for the other two.
Candidates for the PRC and the PEC file at the same time as candidates for local offices and the Legislature, five weeks after statewide and federal candidates. These candidates don't have to go through preprimary conventions as statewide and federal candidates do.
Technically, members of the U.S. House are regional candidates, divided into three congressional districts. But they have to go to the state preprimary convention to get on the ballot.
If there is competition, state convention delegates split into congressional districts at a point in the proceedings to decide on the congressional ballot for their district.
MON, 4-10-06

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


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

4-7 House Remains with Dems

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Republicans may pick up one or two House seats in this year's elections, but Democrats will retain firm control of that chamber.
That's the way it looks after candidates filed for House seats on March 21. All House seats and none in the Senate are up for reelection this year. Democrats outnumber Republicans 42-28.
Nine House members did not file for reelection so we know we'll have some new faces. Five of those stepping down are Republicans and four are Democrats.
It seems as though there usually are more Republican retirements despite their smaller numbers. One reason may be that it isn't as much fun to constantly be in the minority. Another reason could be that Republican districts often are along our borders, making the drives to Santa Fe become old quickly.
One of the retirees is Minority Leader Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque, who brought a stability to House Republican leadership that had been changed every two years for a very long time. In his eight years as leader, Hobbs has provided a steadiness to calm the infighting between his party's two factions.
One of those factions believes in standing united for GOP principles and against the Democrat leadership. The other faction leans toward looking for common ground with Democrat leaders.
That approach usually leads to passage and signing of more of a lawmaker's bills, but also has invited Republican opposition in primary elections. Hobbs has been able to juggle the fissionable material to prevent detonation.
There doesn't appear to be quite as much intra-party squabbling in this election, although it may lie just below the surface. Rep. Sandra Townsend of Aztec, who suffered the fewest vetoes of any Republican lawmaker this year, is stepping down after fending off GOP challengers in the last several primary elections. Rep. Jeanette Wallace, of Los Alamos, who often receives GOP opposition, has a free ride this year.
But Rep. Dan Foley, of Roswell, a leader in recruiting opposition for wayward Republicans, drew Republican opposition himself from Wal-Mart assistant manager Steve Gavi, who had been planning a U.S. Senate run.
Rep. Keith Gardner of Roswell, who unseated Minority Whip Earlene Roberts last election, has drawn opposition. And Bob White, who lost his Albuquerque Heights district to Justine Fox-Young two years ago, will try to reclaim it.
In case you are from Democrat country and see nothing unusual about challenging an incumbent, Republicans typically see such a practice as poor form.
When Gov. Gary Johnson stood for reelection, many Republicans were unsure of him but closed ranks to get him reelected. A few months later, their doubts were confirmed when he began a campaign for drug legalization.
Besides Hobbs and Townsend, other House members relinquishing their seats are Democrats Fred Luna and Kandy Cordova of Valencia County, just south of Albuquerque. The area is growing rapidly, with much of the new population leaning Republican. The GOP just might pick up one of those seats.
Perhaps the most likely gain for Republicans is the Eddy County seat of Democrat Joe Stell, who is stepping aside after a long, distinguished career. I have many good feelings for Joe, who was my English teacher and football coach in Deming 50-some years ago. Nobody messed around in his class and we learned a lot.
Also retiring are Reps. Ed Boykin of Las Cruces, Harriett Ruiz of Albuquerque, Avon Wilson of Roswell and Richard Cheney of Farmington. Cheney once ran for governor against Gary Johnson and John Dendahl. He won the preprimary nominating convention, but he may be known more for being confused with the other Dick Cheney.
Thirty incumbent representatives and one rookie have no opposition in the primary or general elections. Most are from well outside the Albuquerque-Santa Fe axis, where it is more difficult to give up one's life for a month or two every year for no pay and much aggravation.
FRI, 4-7-06

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


4-5 Dems Having All the Fun

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Once again, Democrats get to have all the fun. They have competition in four statewide primaries. The GOP eliminated competition in the only statewide race it had.
Both parties held preprimary nominating conventions in Albuquerque in mid-March. Democrats gathered at Highland High School for a rollicking day of speeches, demonstrations and passing resolutions. One was a resolution to impeach the president. State GOP chairman Allen Weh called the Democrats left-wing radicals.
Republicans dined at the Marriott while listening to candidate speeches. Applause was allowed, and even some banner waving, but nothing unseemly like demonstrations.
I've noticed that Republicans also stand in line -- a foreign concept to Democrats. And they don't leave campaign material all over the floor. But if you have no opposition, why campaign?
Gov. Bill Richardson will not receive any primary election opposition on the ballot, as the last sitting Democratic governor did. Twelve years ago Gov. Bruce King had to weather a furious challenge from his lieutenant governor, Casey Luna.
But that's not to say Gov. Richardson had a cakewalk. Two dissatisfied Democrats announced last year that they would oppose Richardson. Neither one did, but that didn't mean the governor was without opposition at the convention.
Members of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico demonstrated against Richardson for vetoing funding important to children and the needy, not appointing enough Hispanics to top jobs and punishing legislators who don't support his priorities.
Republicans only race was for attorney general. Former Gov. Toney Anaya's son-in-law was pitted against Gov. Bill Richardson's former crime adviser. Anaya should be glad to know that his blessing no longer is the kiss of death. Association with the present governor is even worse.
Schwartz said he was surprised at the Republican partisanship. He shouldn't have been. If a Democrat had taken a position as a top adviser to former Gov. Gary Johnson and then run for office, he would have been treated badly too.
Jim Bibb, the Republican attorney general nominee, has managed to get Republicans excited about his candidacy. He is a National Guard officer and has considerable appeal to the religious right, which has successfully organized for preprimary conventions since the parties went back to them in 1994.
Democrats' most talked-about race also was for attorney general. Gary King did not look as strong as he had appeared in poll results. King says he thought it best that he, Geno Zamora and Lemuel Martinez all be close in the balloting.
Four years ago, King and Ray Powell, Jr. were denied a gubernatorial ballot position by a strong Richardson machine. King and Powell have had very strong feelings about that exclusion ever since. King says he didn't want to divide the party like that.
If that is what happened, it may not have been politically smart. The three finished in almost a dead heat, separated by only four percent. King ended up in third and now has to worry about spirited campaigns being conducted by both Zamora and Martinez.
The Democratic secretary of state race also was lively. Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera bested two former secretaries of state. Stephanie Gonzales finished a percent behind and Shirley Hooper finished with 21 percent.
A fourth candidate, Letitia Montoya, did not receive the necessary 20 percent to get on the ballot, but says she will submit the extra signatures necessary to stay in the race.
This will be quite a contest. Although Hooper is behind coming out of the convention, she may gain strength from being the only candidate who can identify with southern New Mexico. After serving as secretary of state, she went back to Lea County and was elected clerk.
In the other Democrat race of interest, Ray Powell overwhelmed Jim Baca in the race for land commissioner. Baca says not to worry. He almost was kept off the ballot the first time he ran but came back to win the primary despite being outspent 4-1.
WED, 4-05-06

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


Sunday, March 26, 2006

4-3 TWC's Glory Road

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- This has been an exciting March Madness in NCAA basketball, but no matter who wins, it likely won't be as dramatic as Texas Western College's victory over Kentucky 40 years ago.
The victory was such a watershed event that it has been immortalized by Disney in a film released two months ago. The occasion produced a reunion of that 1966 team last November in El Paso to celebrate their story of triumph on the big screen.
"Glory Road" is the name of the Hollywood production. In recognition of the film tribute, Baltimore Drive in front of Don Haskins Center has been renamed Glory Road.
Don Haskins, of course, was the coach of that championship team. He went on to coach at the school for 38 years, amassing 719 victories on his way to membership in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
So what made the 1966 Miners victory so special? The game had societal implications well above its sporting ones. Haskins started five black players against an all-white Kentucky team.
The players on both teams claimed they didn't notice. They were just there to play basketball and win a national championship. The press didn't comment on it at the time either. But many others were watching closely. The '60s were a time of great social upheaval.
Blacks saw the victory as a sign of hope. Whites saw it as a time of significant change and many didn't like it. Haskins was flooded with hate mail. And about 50 percent of it was from black activists accusing him of exploiting blacks.
Haskins said the racial issue never occurred to him at the time. He was just starting his best players. But according to some of those players, Haskins understood the situation quite well. His pre-game pep talk to the team included a quote from Kentucky's legendary coach Adolph Rupp that there was no way five blacks could beat five whites.
He then told his players it was up to them to do something about it. And he had a plan. Kentucky was small and quick. The Miners also had speed, but they had size too.
Haskins told his center David "Big Daddy D" Lattin "Dunk the ball, Dunk it hard and dunk it early. And if anyone gets in your way, run over them."
So the first basket of the game came on a ferocious dunk. Lattin ran over Kentucky's All-American Pat Riley in the process, but Lattin got the foul shot, which he made. Next came a dunk by forward Harry Flournoy and two slick steals by point guard Bobby Joe Hill and the Miners were off to the races, beating No. 1 ranked Kentucky 72-65.
No one from the Miners became famous. Riley and fellow All-American Louie Dampier went on to outstanding pro careers. Riley is still in the business as one of the winningest coaches in the NBA.
But the Miners distinguished themselves as a team. Besides Lattin, Flournoy and Hill, the other players in that game were Nevil Shed, Orsten Artis, Willie Worsley and Willie Cager. All seven are black. The other five players were white, prompting many to suspect that Haskins may have been a little more aware of the situation than he let on.
That game changed much. The first change came the very next year when the snooty University of Texas system finally recognized its western campus and Texas Western College became The University of Texas at El Paso
The next change was that colleges throughout the South, including The University of Texas at Austin, slowly began integrating their athletic teams. Humble little Texas Western had changed the face of collegiate athletics.
The Disney movie stayed fairly true to the story, but there were inaccuracies. One of them involved its game with "Eastern New Mexico State," which had an all-white team that refused to shake hands with Miner players after losing a close game.
The Miners did play Eastern New Mexico University that year. The Greyhounds had five black player, three of whom started. The game was not close and everyone shook hands afterward.
MON, 4-03-06

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


Saturday, March 25, 2006

3-31 Manny Goes to India

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Manny, Manny, where are you? They tell me you're in India recruiting computational engineering students for New Mexico Highlands University.
That's about as smart as recruiting National Football League teams to come to New Mexico. Neither one are going to work.
While you are gone, the U.S. Senate is debating an immigration bill and it's not likely they'll ease restrictions. Not only do they not want to let terrorists in our country, they don't want people coming in looking for jobs either. Not even if they've graduated from a U.S. university and have a job offer of $100,000 a year as a computational engineer.
You are right that young people in India can do wonderful things with computers. They have a thirst for knowledge, a hunger to better themselves and the best computer technology schools in the world. That's probably why they have nuclear weapons. I doubt any country gave India the technology.
When President Bush toured India, much was made of its computer graduates who said the opportunities in their field are now better at home. So they no longer yearn to go to America.
Maybe if a student can't get into a computational engineering program in India or at a prestigious American university, Highlands might be an alternative. But there's still the problem of what to do when they get out.
In the past few years, the U.S. government has cut by two-thirds the number of visas allowed foreign-born computer scientists. The demand is such that no more of these visas will be available until 2007.
And Congress doesn't appear likely to loosen those restrictions even if it might work against our own interests. We have become convinced by our government that we should fear all foreigners, even if they are legal, especially if they look different.
Liberalizing "high skills" immigration is the top priority issue for the electronics industry in the United States. It is so important to Bill Gates that he is now in the East Coast Washington, a place that he hates.
Perhaps you missed all this, Manny, while you were packing for your trip. But even if it were easy to get computational engineers into this country, wanting to spend New Mexico taxpayer money educating students from the other side of the world still doesn't make sense.
The mission given to you by Gov. Richardson was to make Highlands a premier Hispanic-serving institution. India doesn't have many Hispanics, Manny. And northern New Mexico doesn't have much demand for computational engineers.
What are you doing having such a major in your offerings? New Mexico already has three universities with strong computer engineering programs. There could be a reason that I don't see, but you need to do a lot of explaining to New Mexicans when you come home.
Maybe most Highlands students want to stay close to home and wouldn't take a computational engineering program elsewhere. In that case, having students from India in the classroom would likely increase competition and improve the program.
Having professors from India in the classroom also would be a great idea, except that they would need one of those unobtainable high-skills visas too.
And who is going to pay for these students from India? The standard of living and cost of living are much lower over there. Won't those students need financial aid that should be going to students from here?
If this is what the NMHU regents meant when they redefined Aragon's job recently to concentrate on its more external aspects, the definition needs to be more fully spelled out.
The idea as articulated by the regents at the time was that Aragon could secure money and recognition from the Legislature and from individuals and industry. That would seem to be his strength, rather than shuffling his faculty.
Let's hope that is the direction he now heads.
FRI, 3-31-06

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


3-29 NFL?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Oh, c'mon. Get serious. Gov. Bill Richardson has a lot of explaining to do to New Mexicans.
The governor wants to spend $400,000 to examine the feasibility of bringing a National Football League franchise to New Mexico. For two cents, most New Mexicans can tell you that's about as feasible as Terrell Owens being the answer to Dallas Cowboy woes.
Despite Gov. Richardson's lack of success in attracting even a preseason NFL game to New Mexico, somehow he thinks he can get the whole enchilada here.
What do we have to offer? Certainly not population. We are beaten badly there by many metropolitan areas, led by Los Angeles, which supports two major league baseball and basketball teams, but which has no NFL franchise.
Is it Industries to buy those expensive skyboxes? New Mexico ranks close to the bottom in industrialization. Our two biggest are government contractors.
Is it disposable personal income to buy those expensive seats game after game? No, New Mexicans are down near the bottom in that category too.
Is it football mania? Many of us follow the NFL avidly, but we don't have traditions like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas or Alabama, none of which have NFL franchises yet. Our colleges have small stadiums, by NFL standards, and have trouble filling them.
So we must think on a regional basis, like the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots. But even that doesn't do it, So Gov. Richardson is looking internationally, at Mexico.
Our southern neighbor is surprisingly turned on to the NFL. They have no trouble attracting preseason games to their huge soccer arenas. But will those fans travel all the way to Albuquerque eight times a year to watch a U.S.-Mexico team play?
That's what Albuquerque is hoping, because it contributed $100,000 to the feasibility study. But how do you get buy-in from Mexico for an Albuquerque franchise?
Maybe the team could be named the New Mexico Chihuahuas. The Santa Fe New Mexican suggests the Chihuahuan Desert Yappers, since that geographical area overlaps the two nations, as we've learned from the battle over drilling Otero Mesa.
Or maybe we could call ourselves Nuevo Mexico and further confuse the rest of the nation about whether we are one of the 50 states.
But Mexican participation is much more likely if the team were to be based, say, in Sunland Park, on the border. The site also borders the state to the east, which is not mentioned in this quest, although El Paso's population and business community would be crucial to success.
One idea is to play games all over the area, including in Mexico. That gets the buy-in, but it also makes every game a road game, which the New Orleans Saints can tell us is no fun.
What sort of NFL owners would want to move their team into such a situation? Only small-market teams desperate enough to gamble on an even smaller market, with problems yet unsolved by anyone else.
Arizona has never been pleased with its Cardinals, which fled St Louis and never have done well in the desert. Ask most fans, and they'll tell you they just as soon the Cards continue to fare poorly enough that they will have to move and hopefully make room for a better team.
Any team New Mexico would get would either be an expansion team or a perennial loser. How much support will they get from a crowd that doesn't support the Lobos very well when they are winning?
Richardson admits New Mexico isn't ready for the NFL at this time, but he's looking five years down the road and wants to be positioned for the future, including stadiums and a financial package. We're already building a spaceport, for which all conditions appear right. Let's not get ahead of ourselves on this, Bill.
Sorry I can't support you. Guess it's the vision thing.

WED, 3-29-06

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


Saturday, March 18, 2006

3-27 Postal Woes

MON, 3-27-06

SANTA FE -- Maybe the appointment of Albuquerque lawyer Mickey Barnett as a governor of the U.S. Postal Service will help ease the postal disservice New Mexicans have been receiving the past many months.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate Barnett will be one of 11 governors of the USPS. The board generally meets once a month. The positions are comparable to a director of a private corporation and pay $30,000 a year plus $300 for each meeting. Terms are for nine years.
New Mexicans have had their share of postal woes recently. Beginning several weeks before Christmas, mail slowed to a trickle, with bills, checks and other important items arriving a month late or not at all.
It is understandable that the holiday rush can slow down mail, but this went much farther. Postal officials denied problems and said they were hearing no complaints. That was caused mainly by the fact the officials weren�t answering their phones and weren't returning calls.
Lower level postal employees have been quite willing to reveal that the problem is that 80,000 positions have been cut nationally and those left just can't keep up. The head of the New Mexico operation has responded by saying he will fire any employee who talks to the press.
So our congressional delegation has been doing the talking. Sens. Pete Domenici, and Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall have been conducting many meetings with officials both in New Mexico and Washington. Little has come of those meetings other that promises to look into complaints and study the situation.
At one point our representatives were told that more employees would be hired, but at last report that hadn't happened. The offices in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces installed hotlines to field complaints, but those were automated systems, allowing people with problems to talk only with a machine, requests have not been answered, and postal officials still are saying there have been few complaints.
To top off New Mexicans' frustration, the Postal Service reported that the two top state postal officials have received promotions to other states. Various other reports have said the promotions actually were just transfers, requested for personal reasons. The true nature of the departures still hasn't been clarified.
Service has improved somewhat but not much. A large backlog of Santa Fe mail was eliminated one three-day weekend, when deliveries came at odd hours throughout Sunday and a holiday, ostensibly because an inspection was scheduled the following day. But later that was denied by postal officials.
Barnett may be our biggest hope for statewide improvement if he is confirmed. Usually there isn't much of a problem with confirmations at such a low level, but Barnett's case could be an exception.
The former GOP national committeemen created some bitter enemies within his own party when he recruited candidates to run against incumbent Republican lawmakers who didn't always toe the straight GOP line. According to blogger Joe Monahan, some of those disenchanted former legislators have requested to appear before the Senate committee considering Barnett's nomination.
Barnett's biggest coup came when he and former state GOP Chairman John Dendahl ousted state party chairman Ramsay Gorham, who had defeated Dendahl a year earlier. State GOP central committee members then returned the favor by ousting Barnett from his national committeeman post.
Barnett has also found other ways to irritate his fellow Republicans. During former Gov. Gary Johnson's administration, Barnett supported Johnson's efforts to legalize drugs. More recently, he has represented payday loan companies in their effort to successfully oppose legislation to prevent triple-digit interest rates.
And now, Barnett has become the personal lawyer for Butch Maki, a powerful, behind-the-scenes Democrat and longtime close friend of Gov. Bill Richardson.
But even if Barnett is controversial, he's also effective. And he knows New Mexico well, having served at one time as a state senator from Portales.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I'll be out of office through 3/21. Reachable by email or cell phone--  505-699-9982.  bye  J

3-24 Pete in '08

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We interrupt the 2006 election campaign to bring you this special announcement. Sen. Pete Domenici is cranking up his 2008 re-election campaign.
So what's the big hurry? Well, who doesn't doubt that Gov. Bill Richardson has been running his 2008 presidential campaign for some time. And Republican presidential wannabes already have conducted a straw poll.
Pete's now 73 and moving a little more slowly, so maybe he needs a head start. But let's give him a chance to tell us himself.
In a fundraising letter dated March 3, Domenici says, "I realize it may seem early to raise money for re-election�but due to the high cost of television advertising, it is more challenging than ever to collect the funds I need to run the positive, issue-oriented campaigns that are my hallmark."
In other words, don't spend all your money on the 2006 races, folks. Kick in a few hundred bucks to my campaign now, please.
Actually Pete, if you'd spend your money on newspaper advertising, you wouldn't have to raise so much and you'd reach the people who actually vote.
Pete also says he fully expects his "opponents will run a negative campaign against the values we hold so dear." Well maybe, Pete. But when was the last time you had to break a sweat to beat anyone your opponents put up against you? It was in 1978, when Toney Anaya gave you your last good challenge.
Pete and I talked about his future political plans not long after he won his last election in 2002. Sen. Strom Thurmond had just retired at 100 and I asked Pete if he had any plans to go for a new record. He chuckled and said he thought he might stop a little before then.
Fritz Hollings, South Carolina's other senator, also had just retired, at 80, after 36 years in the Senate without ever becoming the state's senior senator. The same sort of thing could happen to Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico's junior senator. But I doubt he's worrying too much about it.
People have been predicting for years that health problems would force Domenici out anytime. A lung problem 20 years ago set him back, but surgery and quitting smoking seem to have cured that. The only health reports we hear now relate to the creaking bones of old age and that's not fatal.
Blogger Joe Monahan suggests that Domenici is just trying to scare out any competition that might be thinking he won't run. Could be. But there's also a possibility it might go deeper.
Domenici has been the mentor for Rep. Heather Wilson since she first entered politics. When the GOP convention gave her second spot on the 1st Congressional District primary election ballot in 1998, Domenici stepped in to give her the boost necessary to win that primary.
Since then, it has been speculated that Pete would do what he could to help his prot�g� succeed him. One way to accomplish that would be to scare out the competition and then make a last-minute withdrawal from the race, just in time for Wilson to sneak in unopposed.
But who would ever be that sly? Well, it happened when Rep. Manuel Lujan retired from Congress in 1988. He'd given no sign that he was considering stepping down, when just after the first of the year, he announced he was leaving office, followed by an announcement from his brother, Ed Lujan, that he was running.
Little time was left for other hopefuls to gather petitions, but District Attorney Schiff got under the wire and won the primary election.
Lujan and Domenici are good friends and the conversation must have arisen at some time. At his victory party in 2002, Domenici gave indications it would be his last election.
So the possibility exists that Domenici could step aside at the last minute. But don't think that other hopefuls haven't thought of that.
And one might even be Bill Richardson.
FRI, 3-24-06

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


Monday, March 13, 2006

NM Congressional Race Draws National Attention

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico will have only two exciting general election races at the state and federal levels this November.
One will be the contest for state land commissioner between incumbent Republican Patrick Lyons and one of two Democrats, both of whom are former land commissioners.
The other will be the 1st Congressional District face off between incumbent Republican Heather Wilson and current Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat.
The congressional contest won't be a statewide race but it will be of interest to all New Mexicans who follow politics. And it will be closely watched nationally.
Wilson and Madrid both are very strong candidates. They are intelligent, well-educated, articulate women with strong records of public service. And they are in a congressional district notorious for splitting its ballot.
Neither party can claim to own Albuquerque. Its moderate and independent voters back the individual rather than the party, perhaps more than any area of the country.
Toss in a liberal north and a conservative south and the entire state also is a mystery to national political experts. We've never received the recognition we should for being the best predictor of presidential elections in the nation..
Of course, if most people understood that New Mexico is a state, we'd get more recognition.
Now, at least, the 1st Congressional District is receiving some out-of-state attention. Blogger Joe Monahan reports that the Los Angeles Times, one of the nation's largest newspapers, has chosen the 1st Congressional District as the possible key to the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A lengthy article by Mark Barabak in the March 4 edition describes the "politically confounding" district and what the two candidates are doing to win it.
The most notable move, thus far, has been Wilson's split with President George Bush and fellow Republicans on several recent occasions.
Wilson received national attention when she broke ranks and called for an investigation of the administration's domestic surveillance program. Wilson heads the House subcommittee that overseas the National Security Agency, so her remarks reverberated throughout Washington and the nation.
Wilson blasted administration refusals to provide her subcommittee with briefings on National Security Agency operations.
Suddenly the administration changed course and provided a closed-door briefing to Wilson and her subcommittee. But Wilson still expressed serious concerns and questions about the program.
Wilson's break with the administration is sure to help in her district where she has been called a rubber stamp for the Bush-Cheney administration. And it may not hurt her too much with GOP leaders, who know she needs political cover in an unpredictable district.
But her break is noticed by the conservative press. A Wall Street Journal columnist observed that local Albuquerque politics is now setting national security policy
The allusion to local Albuquerque politics is what the Wilson-Madrid contest is all about. If Wilson can keep the focus locally, she'll remain undefeated. If Madrid and Democrat leaders can shift that focus to national politics, Wilson could go down.
With Republican congressional scandals and plummeting popularity ratings of the president and vice president, Democrats are hoping for a major turnaround in this year's midterm congressional elections just as Democrats experienced in 1994, when both houses of Congress abruptly went Republican.
So we're almost sure to see Madrid running against Republicans in Washington and Wilson trying to keep the focus on local issues and on what she has done in Washington.
It will be a classic struggle, with both national parties throwing money and staff into the race.
WED, 3-22-06

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


Sunday, March 12, 2006

3-20 Open the Door

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- If our state legislators can work together as well behind closed doors as they claim they do, why don't they also do it in public? Think how proud we'd be of them.
Wouldn't it be great to see all 112 of our state lawmakers acting like statesmen? Don't you suppose that New Mexico could truly begin to move forward with people like that representing us?
But for some reason they can only work efficiently when we can't see them. When they get out in the open, they start "pontificating and posturing," according to a senator arguing against opening conference committees to the public and press.
Conference committees are composed of members appointed by both houses and both parties to iron out differences in bills passed by both houses. Usually each house appoints two members representing the majority party and one from the minority party.
Despite being outnumbered 2-1 in conference committees, Republicans have argued on the floor of both houses that their rights are better protected when working in secret.
Does that mean that Democrats start thinking like Republicans when no one is watching? Or does it mean that Democrats really are nice people in private, but get them out in public and they start abusing the rights of the minority party?
It doesn't make a great deal of sense to me, but it seems to be happening.
As usual, this year, bills were introduced in both houses to join 43 other states in opening conference committees of the legislature. And as usual, the leaders of both parties in both houses found numerous reasons to oppose the idea of open government.
None of those reasons are very good. After all, state lawmakers have seen fit to require all meetings of all local public bodies to be open. But the good reasons for requiring that become bad when applied to themselves.
The bottom line is that legislators have the power to exempt themselves from abiding by the laws they impose on everyone under their control. And because they can do it, they will do it.
It doesn't make the public think highly of legislators. If asked, a vast majority of the public will say they think government should be open. How else can they be an informed electorate?
But closed conference committees aren't something that hundreds of people will come to Santa Fe to demonstrate about. The press and good government groups always endorse legislation to open conference committees, but it isn't enough pressure to do the job.
Most lobbyists and special interest groups also would like to see open conference committees. It is frustrating when five out of six members appointed to a conference committee say they will support your side of an issue, but somehow it fails.
It would be nice to know who said and did what because the stories coming from committee members don't always match up. In other words, there is no accountability for actions taken in a conference committee.
But interest groups and lobbyists usually don't make too big a deal out of opening conference committees because the people who appoint those committees also have a strong hand in controlling the destiny of all issues.
The only lobbyists who wouldn't want open conference committees would be those who feel they might get something out of a closed conference committee that they couldn't get out in the open. But there are very few lobbyists with those kinds of connections.
Fundamentally, it is committee chairmen and vice-chairmen who control actions of a conference committee. They are usually the ones appointed to those committees.
This year, when an open committee action didn't go his way, a committee vice chairman said it didn't really matter because when the bill got to a conference committee he would amend it back the way he wanted.
That's being honest, but ii isn't exactly democracy in action.
MON, 3-20-06

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


Saturday, March 11, 2006

3-17 Legislative Feeding Frenzy

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The 2006 legislative session was christened "the year of the child" by Gov. Bill Richardson in his opening day address.
Thirty days later, disappointed observers were renaming it "the year of the Senate" and "the year of the spaceport."
But when the governor finished line-item vetoing appropriation bills 20 days later, the most appropriate name appeared to be "the year of the feeding frenzy."
On opening day of the 2006 Legislature, Gov. Richardson warned lawmakers not to get into a feeding frenzy over all the new money available for pork projects in their districts. At the time, it appeared to be just a general caution that there was much work to be done. No one expected to hear any more about a feeding frenzy.
But a week before the end of the session, when the Senate passed its version of the general appropriations act, Richardson proclaimed that, sure enough, the Senate had gotten into a feeding frenzy and neglected his year-of-the-child proposals.
When the session ended, the governor observed that even though he received 80 percent of his year-of-the-child requests, lawmakers had gotten into a feeding frenzy and he would have to veto over $250 million dollars of pork in order to get the budget back in balance.
Normally, when a budget is out of balance, we are talking about recurring expenditures being more than projected recurring revenues. But Richardson was speaking of surplus money, the leftovers that are available for one-time expenditures.
At the March 8 deadline for signing and vetoing bills, the governor explained that it is necessary to have a 10 percent projected surplus for a budget to be in balance.
Ten percent surpluses are nice but for most of our state's existence, we have gotten along on five percent or less for use in case of emergencies. Wall Street bonding firms like to see large cash reserves, which may be one reason for the state's good credit rating.
But our credit rating always has been strong because the state constitution prohibits deficit budgets. Rep. Lucky Varela, recognized as the Legislature's top financial expert, expressed dismay at Gov. Richardson's self-imposed 10-percent surplus requirement. Varela said he thought a 7.5 percent surplus would be very adequate.
It now appears obvious what the governor is doing. In addition to being a tax-cutting governor, he's now a budget-balancing governor, albeit in a state that mandates a balanced budget. But he can tell of the fight he had to get the job done and keep spending in check.
Gov. Richardson also was upset that he didn't get a $250 million road bill he wanted. Presumably he would have vetoed that too. He then could have bragged about cutting over a half-billion bucks in spending. When it was all over, the state's general fund budget increased by 8 percent. Pretty generous for a tight-fisted governor.
In a previous column, we predicted the governor would use his announcement of signings and vetoes to make a statement about the special session he had threatened to call.
That's what he did. And as we predicted, he said there is little chance of a special session, and only after the June primaries. One major disadvantage of a special session in an election year is that not only does it take time from campaigning, no one can conduct any fundraising during that period.
And for the governor, the prohibition continues another 20 days after the session ends. That's not going to hurt this governor too badly, since he has no primary election opposition.
But Richardson knows how angry the 70 members of the House would be, since they all must stand for reelection this year. And if lawmakers are unhappy, there is little chance of the governor getting anything at all from the session.
FRI, 3-17-06

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


Friday, March 10, 2006

3-15 Governor Commits a "Ministerial Oversight"

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- In a recent column, I noted that it is unclear whether the governor's deadline for signing and vetoing bills is at noon or midnight of the 20th day following the end of a legislative session.
To be safe, I said, governors take care to get all action wrapped up by noon, because anything later than that is vulnerable to court challenge if it is the least bit controversial.
It has been many years since the subject has arisen. It is seldom even mentioned. But this year some loose ends were left hanging that had to be corrected later in the day. And it appears there will be a court challenge.
At issue is $75 million for three pending water rights settlements in northern New Mexico. Gov. Bill Richardson issued an executive message explaining his reasons for vetoing the allocations, but he didn't get them crossed out in the big money bill that he signed.
To correct this "ministerial oversight," the governor issued a "certificate of reconciliation." Not only is Richardson plowing new ground, he's coming up with terms that even those of us who have been on the scene for over 40 years have never encountered.
In terms we have heard before, Rep. Dan Foley, of Roswell, says he'll go to the state Supreme Court to challenge Richardson's rookie mistake that amounted to absolute, total incompetence.
Foley doesn't represent northern New Mexico, so doesn't seem to have much stake in the issue. But the subject may not be as important as clarifying whether the governor's actions were legal. Foley has made a name for himself working to insure that Richardson toes the line.
A 1967 attorney general's opinion states that although legislative days run from noon to noon, calendar days are used for computing time after lawmakers adjourn their session.
A favorite saying about attorney general opinions is that often they aren't even good guesses. This opinion evidently wasn't written for political reasons. It was issued by Democrat Boston Witt during the administration of Republican David Cargo.
The bottom line is that attorney general opinions don't carry the force of law. Only a suit, such as Rep. Foley's, can clarify this conflict of interpretations.
The timing of Richardson's reconciliation of his mistake isn't all that is at issue in this situation, however. If he had vetoed the entire spending bill, the timing would not have mattered, since bills not vetoed by the deadline, die anyway, by a process popularly known as a pocket veto.
But Gov. Richardson was vetoing line items out of a bill he already had signed. There is a legitimate question as to whether that is possible. Richardson says it is possible because the intent was clear. Foley says it isn't because the bill went into effect as soon as the governor signed it.
Gov. Richardson also slipped up on two smaller vetoes, which he corrected with his "certificate of reconciliation." The vetoes were of museum appropriations in Santa Fe. These were crossed out, but in his veto message he cited the wrong line numbers.
Foley plans to challenge those too and is seeking other lawmakers to throw in with him. Unfortunately for him, the vetoed projects were all in Democrat districts of northern New Mexico. He may have a shot with Sen. John Grubesic, of Santa Fe, who has been at odds with the governor for over a year.
So was this total incompetence, as Rep. Foley charges? When a guy is busy vetoing $269 million worth of line items out of various appropriation bills, it's easy to get messed up as the deadline approaches.
It is ironic, however, that Gov. Richardson was upset that the Legislature didn't send him more legislation to act on before the deadline.
One piece he wanted badly was a $250 million road bill that the Senate dallied around and didn't pass. Had Richardson received it, he would have had to veto additional money somewhere, with no additional time to do it.
WED, 3-15-06

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


Monday, March 06, 2006

3-13 Spaceport Buzz Continues

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The spaceport buzz continues, with legislative leaders helping out as cheerleaders despite lingering reservations on the part of some of their colleagues and many of their constituents.
Those misgivings likely will be heard when communities begin debating an increase in gross receipts taxes to provide the local support the Legislature wants to see.
A spaceport is an exciting prospect but many are asking whether a state as poor as ours should be making what amounts to venture capital investments in movies, Eclipse airplanes and a spaceport.
Perhaps it is a justifiable use of our burgeoning permanent funds that are some of the largest in the nation. Just collecting interest off them may not be the way to ever get us out of our hole. Maybe it's wise to venture into areas that promise high wage jobs and income to the state.
We know we won't be alone in the spaceport business. Gov. Jeb Bush was traumatized to lose Virgin Galactic's business to New Mexico. He has since invited owner Richard Branson to Cape Canaveral and extracted comments from him that he envisions some flights from there. Bush is now asking his legislature for $55 million to offer incentives and build structures for commercial use.
Then came the announcement that Space Adventures, the company that sent the first two passengers to the International Space Station, plans to build a $265 million spaceport in the United Arab Emirates, which will make an initial investment of $30 million in the project.
But enough of that. It appears this flight is on its way and the hoopla has begun. Actress and cosmetics tycoon Victoria Principal stood next to Gov. Bill Richardson in Santa Fe and announced that she has bought a ticket on the first of Virgin Galactic's space shots. The announcement was well covered by movie magazines and TV shows.
Principal noted that she goes in for daredevil adventures. She's a hang glider, paraglider, bobsledder and race car driver. We need to hook her up with our former governor, Gary Johnson, who is recovering from a paragliding accident.
In her announcement, Principal said she isn't worried about g-forces or the effects of weightlessness. Her main concern is what to wear for an event that she knows will be very well publicized.
Other celebrities who have expressed interest are expectant parents Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, William Shatner, Sigourney Weaver, Paris Hilton and physicist Stephen Hawking.
There's also another way to get into space. Several companies are now launching space funerals, and they're becoming more affordable. Although Captain Kirk hasn't plunked down his money yet for a ride on Virgin Galactic, Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry's ashes were shot into space along with 23 others in 1997. And Scotty will be beamed up later this month.
With so many companies getting involved in the space-funeral business, one of them is sure to want to locate eventually at New Mexico's spaceport.
The rocket races we talked about last month received some excellent publicity in the February issue of Popular Science. The races are designed to be as much like NASCAR races as possible, including several pit stops in every race.
The rocket racers will debut in October at the X Prize competition at the Las Cruces airport and in 2007 will begin racing at venues around the country in 2007. The championships will be in Las Cruces.
New Mexico's Harrison Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the moon, still is pushing his idea of mining the lunar surface for fuel. He now has a book "Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space." While on the moon, he collected a sample of helium, which he says has a unique structure that can be converted into fuel for nuclear fusion.
Although New Mexico's spaceport will be at Upham, north of Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences is doing its best to get into the act. It now has signs at each end of town proclaiming itself the future site of the spaceport and directing traffic to its two Interstate-25 exits.
MON, 3-13-06

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


3-10 Is Gov Involved in AG Race?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Wouldn't it be fortunate for Gov. Bill Richardson if the next attorney general were to be a former employee of his?
If the Democrat and Republican nominees in next November's general election were to be Geno Zamora and Bob Schwartz, Richardson couldn't lose.
Current Attorney General Patricia Madrid and Gov. Richardson both are Democrats. They have had a few major disagreements the past three years, but in general, their public interactions have been civil and professional.
Both, however, are very ambitious politicians. Add to that mix another very ambitious politician, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, and you have the makings for some behind-the-scenes tension.
That's especially the case since both Denish and Madrid are on about the same rung of the political ladder. They have been primary election opponents before and could be again.
So Gov. Richardson just could be dreaming of a day when an attorney general is in office with whom he can kick back and relax before they start talking business.
Zamora would be such a person. At the beginning of the Richardson administration he was the governor's chief legal adviser. He remained in that post until last summer when he left to begin his race for attorney general.
Would Richardson have encouraged him to make that run? Perish the thought. Those things don't happen in politics. But there is the matter of former Rep. Gary King getting into the attorney general race at about the same time.
King's name recognition caused two other hopefuls to get out of the race when their internal polling showed King to be way out in front. Relations between Richardson and the King family never have been exactly warm.
Richardson first came to New Mexico in 1978 to be executive director of the state Democratic Party. A few months later, King's father, Bruce, became the Democratic nominee for governor, and bounced Richardson out on his ear.
That's not an unusual action for gubernatorial nominees. Richardson cleaned house after winning the 2002 Democratic primary. Party officials should expect to be bounced, but when it happens to you, the perspective is a little different.
Years later, when Richardson became secretary of Energy in the late '90s, he hired Gary King to come to Washington to work for him. It wasn't a typical political hiring. King is an attorney specializing in energy law.
As President Bill Clinton's second term ended in 2000, King informed Richardson that he was thinking about another run for governor. Two years earlier, he had gotten into the Democratic primary late and he wanted to correct that in the 2002 race.
But, King said, if Richardson intended a gubernatorial run, that would weigh heavily on his plans. Richardson declined to commit one way or the other, so King came home and began his campaign. A year later, Richardson jumped in and the two ended up facing each other.
The prospect of King becoming attorney general during Richardson's second term likely isn't nearly as appealing as having a former staff member in that office. Zamora has been very successful at raising money. Do you suppose he might be getting any help?
On the Republican side, former Bernalillo County District Attorney Bob Schwartz recently resigned as the governor's criminal justice adviser. Expect to find no ties between Schwartz and Richardson during his GOP primary race against Jim Bibb. Schwartz just hopes Republicans forgive him for his previous employment.
Attorney General Madrid has drawn the Democrat assignment to challenge Rep. Heather Wilson for her congressional seat. That hasn't been a pleasant task for past Democrat candidates. Madrid is the strongest challenger yet, but if she wins, it will be by the narrowest of margins.
And that advantage could be obliterated by a Green candidate in the race. We haven't heard much from the Greens lately, but they don't like some of Madrid's rulings and have vowed to challenge her.
FRI. 3-10-06

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


Sunday, March 05, 2006

3-8 Gov's Signing Deadline

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Wednesday, March 8, is Gov. Bill Richardson's deadline for signing or vetoing bills. Governors are given 20 days following the end of a legislative session to wade through all bills the Legislature passes.
It is unclear whether that deadline arrives at noon or midnight. Since legislative sessions end at noon, the general assumption is that the signing deadline also is at noon.
But the law is unclear, so a bill signed between noon and midnight may be constitutional, but would be vulnerable to court challenge if it were the least bit controversial.
There is no problem with a governor vetoing a bill after the deadline, but there is no reason for him to do that. Any bill not acted upon by the deadline is automatically vetoed. The inaction is popularly called a pocket veto.
The only difference is that governors send a message to the house of origination explaining reasons for a veto. Pocket vetoes are deemed a signal from the governor that the measure is sufficiently unimportant to not warrant an explanation.
Most bills aren't passed until the final few days of a session, especially of it is only a 30-day session. If a bill is passed more than three days before the end of a session, it must be acted upon by the governor before the session ends.
If the governor vetoes such a bill, the Legislature has an opportunity to override the veto. For that reason, lawmakers try to get bills to the governor early, especially the big appropriations bill. The effort this year ran afoul of the Senate's plodding pace.
The pile of bills that pass at the end of a session create a tremendous workload for House and Senate staffs, which must carefully put every bill in final form, with its amendments woven in, before sending it to the governor.
This "enrolling and engrossing" action takes a chunk of the 20-day time period the governor has to consider them. On more than one occasion, Gov. Richardson has complained about not getting bills in time to give them proper consideration.
He sometimes has used that slowness as a reason for pocket vetoes. Occasionally, the governor will not receive a bill for which he already has scheduled a signing ceremony.
Traditionally, the governor will call a news conference shortly after the bill-signing deadline to provide his spin on bills signed, bills vetoed and what it all means.
A part of the latter is very likely to be some comments about a special session. At the end of the regular session, Richardson expressed his disappointment with bills not passed and said he would like to hear from New Mexicans before deciding the following week whether to call a special session.
The following week the governor's office announced it had heard from 350 people, 80 percent of whom wanted a special session. The only mention of specifics were calls from road contractors wanting another shot at passing the $250 million road bill that got stalled in the Senate. Richardson made no announcement that week.
A week later, Richardson met for an hour with House and Senate leaders. He still made no announcement after that meeting and legislators who attended said he didn't tip his hand either.
Since that session lasted only an hour, there obviously were no agreements hammered out on issues likely to be on the agenda. Without such agreements, a special session would only produce the same controversies as the regular session.
A stalemated special session would be a further embarrassment to the governor and it wouldn't serve the purpose of anyone who has to campaign for office this spring. House members would be prevented from raising campaign funds during a special session. The governor can't raise money during the session or during the 20-day bill-signing period afterward.
So it isn't very likely Gov. Richardson will announce a special session any time soon
WED, 3-08-06

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


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

3-6 Lingering Issues

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Lawmakers have gone home, having passed many bills and killed many more. Gov. Bill Richardson still has a few more days to decide on whether to sign or veto the bills they did pass.
But regardless of whether the bills were passed or killed, signed or vetoed, many issues remain unresolved and will continue to fester until they are resolved.
We'll start with the issues that passed the Legislature.
1. A return to paper ballots. Many lawmakers call it a return to horse and buggy days. Many county clerks say it won't work and is a waste of money.
But the governor and secretary of state say it is the only way to create a paper trail that will regain the confidence of voters. And two types of electronic machines were going to have to be replaced by the end of the year because they don't meet new federal standards.
Could those county clerks be covering their backsides in case anything goes wrong? The disagreements will continue.
2. Katie's Law, named after Katie Sepich, a New Mexico State University student, who was raped and murdered. Her mother successfully lobbied the Legislature to require fingerprinting of everyone charged with a felony. Civil rights advocates contended that fingerprinting of those convicted of a felony is as far as it should go. Court challenges are a certainty.
And now, those issues that didn't pass the Legislature.
1. Kendra's Law, named after Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a New York subway by a schizophrenic, would allow judges to order outpatient treatment for the mentally ill. It was prompted by Albuquerque killings by mentally ill persons who weren't on their medications.
Family members testified on both sides of the issue. Some said it would help them deal with relatives they no longer can handle. Others said it will drive people away from treatment. The solution, they said, is not mandatory treatment, but the availability of better treatment. Lawmakers decided the $2 million earmarked for improved treatment was woefully short of meeting that need.
2. Misconduct by public officials. This package of bills ranged from anti-corruption measures to ethics reform. At least 99 percent of the state's citizens would support all the components of the package, but lawmakers chose to pass only one minor bill. Voters are likely to have a good memory on this one.
3. Open conference committees. Granted, it is those of us in the media who feel most strongly about this one. But members of the public do feel they have a right to know what is going on when the doors of government are closed.
4. Conference committees iron out differences between the two houses of the Legislature on specific bills. Since they are closed sessions, anything can happen, and often does. It often is an opportunity for the majority party to create much mischief at the expense of the minority.
Since these committee reports come out at the end of a session and cannot be amended, they usually pass and result in laws that have not been heard in public. I can assure you that we will keep knocking on that door until it is opened.
5. Medical marijuana doesn't affect many people. For those whom it can help reduce the pain and suffering of terminal illness, it is said to be a blessing. But others have nagging suspicions that this isn't a medical bill, it is a marijuana bill. That argument isn't going away.
6. And finally, coming to a public body near you, local attempts to raise the minimum wage. Opponents of an increase were ecstatic when attempts to raise the minimum wage were defeated at the end of the legislative session.
But they may not be as happy when the divisive debate comes to their town. Bills before the Legislature would have prevented local increases, except in Santa Fe, where city council action already has blown wages through the roof.
MON, 3-06-06

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


3-3 attachment

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- It might be called the Battle of the Political Stars. This year's contests for statewide offices feature perhaps the largest array of big-name candidates the state has seen.
Several officeholders from the past are seeking to reclaim their former positions. All are Democrats, as one might guess, since Republicans don't win many statewide offices below governor.
The secretary of state contest has two former holders of that office. Shirley Hooper served from 1979-1982 and Stephanie Gonzales from 1991-1998. Other Democrats in that primary will be Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera and Letitia Montoya of Santa Fe. On the GOP side is former Albuquerque city councilor and mayoral candidate Vickie Perea.
The state land commissioner race also has two former office holders vying for the right to challenge current Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons in the November general election. Former Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca held the land post from 1983-1986 and from 1991-1993, when he was appointed to head the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. Baca will be opposed in the Democratic primary by Ray Powell, Jr., who served nearly 10 years, from 1993 to 2002.
The state treasurer's race has former Treasurer James Lewis, of Albuquerque, squaring off against state Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, of Santa Fe, in the Democratic Primary. Lewis, a Roswell native, also has been Bernalillo County treasurer, chief of staff to former Gov. Bruce King and chief administrative officer for the city of Albuquerque.
Admittedly, the name Lucky Luciano is a big one, but possibly not the best for identification with a candidate seeking the scandalized treasurer's office. But his nickname has not been an impediment in the past. Rep. Varela, is known as a financial expert and a straight shooter.
The attorney general's race also has some big names. Former Rep. Gary King is a member of arguably the most politically prominent family in the state. He has run for governor and Congress. Although both races were unsuccessful, they helped him build a name recognition and political base that chased some fellow Democrats out of the race when he announced. Staying in the contest with him are Geno Zamora, the former legal adviser to Gov. Bill Richardson and Lemuel Martinez of Grants, the 13th Judicial District attorney.
On the Republican side of attorney general contest are former Bernalillo County District Attorney Bob Schwartz and former assistant U.S. attorney Jim Bibb. Schwartz has stayed in the news as Gov. Richardson's crime adviser. Bibb is an Army National Guard major who flew in Afghanistan, and a son-in-law of former Gov. Toney Anaya.
Current Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat, is challenging Rep. Heather Wilson for her 1st Congressional District seat. Madrid has been a state district judge and a candidate for lieutenant governor and Congress in the past. This could be Wilson's toughest challenge yet.
The GOP lieutenant governor pick, Sen. Sue Wilson-Beffort, of Albuquerque, isn't particularly well known at this point, but my prediction is that she will be by the end of the campaign. She's a dynamo, much like our current governor, and evidently stays in shape much like our previous governor, Gary Johnson.
The word back during the Johnson administration was that she was the only person who could do more pushups than the governor. Of course, Johnson was doing them with one arm, but Wilson-Beffort's accomplishment is still notable. She married General Services Administration Secretary Steve Beffort toward the end of the Johnson administration.
Sen. Joe Carraro, a GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate nomination to challenge Sen. Jeff Bingaman, is also a headline grabber. While arguing for open conference committee hearings during the last session, he said he looked forward to the day when they become a reality because he comes up with some of his best quotes in conference committees. Unfortunately, that kind of grandstanding is a major reason used against opening conference committees.
FRI, 3-03-06

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