Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

1-5 Crazy Legislative Session Coming

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The 2009 Legislature will be even crazier than most. Here's the problem. In last June's primaries, when the economy was soaring, Democrats replaced some of their middle-of-the-road guys with what they now call progressives.
You know by now, that's the politically correct term for liberals, which a decade of Republican control at the federal level cleverly rebranded as socialism.
The new Democratic progressives had a bucket full of issues that the old Democrats weren't moving quickly enough. We're talking health care, education, assistance to the needy and the elderly and tiny tots and you name it. We had the money but we weren't spending it on the right priorities.
So now we don't have the money but we have the new progressives with their big social programs. Since the state must balance its budget, something's gotta give.
Will it be a tax increase? That would be a sure way to reinvigorate the Republican Party and silence all that talk about the GOP being next to dead. They might ask all of us to return that $50 rebate check they sent us earlier in the year because our state was so flush with money.
Considering that so many people claim they saw this economic crisis coming over a year ago, we surely did some crazy spending this past year. I wish one of those smart guys would have told me the economy was going to tank back when he first knew it. I'd be sitting pretty now.
We aren't going to dip into our rainy day state funds that we have been saving all these years. Oh, sure, it's raining out there but we've found a better use for those funds. They get us a very good interest rate so we can borrow lots more money and temporarily solve our financial problems that way.
Otherwise, we'll make some cuts here and there, freeze some hirings and slice away some obvious fat to wipe out the $454 million deficit we think we have at this point.
Then comes the harder stuff. One very obvious target is all the pork barrel money lawmakers have taken home over the years that never has been spent.
In some cases, the money wasn't sufficient, or it is waiting for a local or federal match or costs have risen in the meantime. And sometimes the pork barrel project wasn't even wanted by the governmental body for which it was appropriated.
A recent legislative report states that nearly 3,000 projects, totaling $673 million, have seen no activity for over a year. Those figures are the only evidence needed to prove the total idiocy of New Mexico's method of allocating money for capital outlay projects.
The only reason it is done is to help incumbent lawmakers get reelected. It also happens at the federal level. Since the beginning of the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson, improvements have been made to prioritize the money for projects on a statewide basis.
This would be a great time to clean up the rest of the mess while solving this year's budget crisis and getting a start on next year's financial woes.
Our neighbor, Arizona, found a novel method of helping solve the current year's budget crisis. It bought 1,000 cameras to catch speeders and red light runners. Fines for violations were increased to several hundred dollars and the money has been rolling in.
This is strictly a fundraising proposition. Violations don't go on a drivers record and insurance companies don't know.
The method contrasts with the New Mexico Legislature's action last year to speak out against traffic cameras as an invasion of privacy, unfair to poor people and to confiscate from the city of Albuquerque any fine revenue above actual expenses.
On our trips to Phoenix to see family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, police were everywhere on highways and in cities. And the budget is beginning to balance.
MUN, 1-05-09

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


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

1-2 Predictions 2009

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Happy 2009. Let's see what we can do about attempting some predictions for a new year.
2008 was as unpredictable as years ever get. 2009 will be just as capricious because we'll be living with the results of last year's craziness.
President Barack Obama will be neither a savior nor the end of the world. He will disappoint those whose expectations were too high and produce some begrudging acceptances from those who harbored great suspicion.
The economy won't be turned around anytime soon. Patterning a recovery after the Great Depression won't help much because today's world is infinitely more complicated and interdependent.
New Mexico faces the challenge of having four-fifths of our congressional delegation replacing old pros. The trick will be in keeping the consequences as minimal as possible. There some good signs.
Sen. Tom Udall is a veteran of the lower house. He knows the Hill from family ties and from friendships forged while living in Washington as a member of the House.
Reps. Harry Teague and Martin Heinrich won House seats long held by Republicans. Because they are sure to face tough opposition in two years, they are likely to receive better committee assignments and more help with legislation than typical rookies.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan won't have that help. He'll have to rely on the ties that bind his father with Bill Richardson, who can help open some doors in Washington.
Gov. Richardson won't be confirmed as quickly as the Democratic timetable anticipates. Senate Democrats plan to start confirmation hearings next week and have them ready for Senate floor votes a day or two after Pres. Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.
But the majority doesn't always rule in the Senate. One senator can block a confirmation. Democrats won't want to waste too much political capital on getting the fastest confirmations ever. It's likely to be February before Gov. Bill leaves.
He won't be back. It's New Mexico in my rear view mirror for our soon-to-be former governor. Secretary of Commerce isn't likely to be Richardson's last job in an Obama administration.
The grand jury look into a possible pay-to-play scheme isn't likely to hurt Richardson's move onto the national stage. That jury was convened last August and has been looking at many items. The Obama team know about the activity well be fore Richardson's appointment.
As for Richardson's New Mexico legacy, some of it will appear over ambitious in light of the economic collapse. And some is likely to disappear during the upcoming legislative session.
The New Mexico Legislature will balance the state's budget and it will accomplish the feat without a tax increase or dipping into the state's rainy day accounts.
Despite their former leader, Manny Aragon, spending time in jail for misusing his office, the state Senate again will block any attempts at significant ethics reform. But it will have to change its excuse that it isn't needed.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish eventually will become governor this year. She will be reelected in 2010 with scant opposition. Val Kilmer won't challenge her. Neither will Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez.
Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell will not find enough Democrats to form a coalition with Republicans to control the state Senate.
Despite claims to the contrary, Republicans will be back at the state and national levels. And they won't have to change the name of their party philosophy as Democrats did when they became progressive instead of liberal
Former House Republican whip Dan Foley, defeated in last June's GOP primary, will also be back. But not in Roswell. Rio Rancho offers some real promise for a restart.
When she becomes governor this year, Diane Denish will appoint state Auditor Hector Balderas as her lieutenant governor. He's a great balance for the ticket in terms of gender, ethnicity and locale. Of the suggested candidates, he's the only one who has won a statewide race.
FRI, 1-02-09

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


Sunday, December 28, 2008

12-31 Childhood Memories

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE – The end of the year is a time for reflection in our family. Recently the subject of favorite childhood memories arose and I realized how fortunate I was to have so many.
One of my earliest memories was of visiting my godparents, Dr. C. Banks Austin and his wife Helen, in Lordsburg. It was the nicest house I had ever seen, with white carpet in the living room and smoked glass on the walls and ceiling of the bathroom. He could even open the garage door by rolling down his window and sticking his key in a switch beside the driveway. I vowed I was going to have one of those when I grew up.
Then there was my grandparents' house at the corner of Melendres and Hadley in Las Cruces. It had a huge back yard with pecan and fruit trees and a chicken coop where we gathered eggs every day. My grandfather got to irrigate once a week with water from the Rio Grande. I loved the engineering that went into getting the water to the right places.
My grandfather Miller was a country doctor. But he really was a farmer at heart so he never minded driving out to a farm house to tend to a sore throat and he never objected to taking a chicken or whatever the family had to trade for his services. And he never objected to me tagging along.
The two steps leading up to their front door were a favorite place. My grandmother and I sat there one August afternoon in 1945 and listened to the sirens proclaiming the end of World War II. The next summer, we sat there watching the captured German V-2 rockets being tested beyond the Organ Mountains to the east. Then their trails would get crooked as they arced over and headed to a crash landing.
As my sister and I got older, our parents began taking us on their summer trips to education conferences. instead of leaving us with our grandparents. We visited all 48 states except the Dakotas. And whenever we hit a city with a major league baseball team, my father and I would see a game. I got to see just about all the old baseball parks.
We also got to the White House on one of those trips. Rep. Clinton Anderson gave us a tour and I got to play with President Roosevelt's dog Fala. A summer later, I discovered fireflies, on a warm night in Bloomington, Indiana. I had such fun catching them and putting them in a jar and doing all those things that little boys do.
Then there was our fourth-grade Sunday School class at the Methodist Church in Deming. We met in the boiler room, where Walter Donaldson told us stories of the Bataan Death March and the hell ships that took them to the horrible prison camps in Japan. I'm sure there was always a religious moral and that it did me some good, but what I remember were the gripping war stories.
In 1948 President Harry Truman came to Deming on his famed whistlestop campaign tour of the nation. As a Boy Scout, I got to stand close to the front holding a flag as Harry railed about the "do-nothing 80th Congress" and men yelled "Give 'em hell, Harry."
My father was an avid baseball fan. We used to sit by the radio and listen to major league games. And whenever he got the opportunity in a group of people, he would recite "Casey at the Bat." My son surprised me at my father's funeral a few years ago when he performed an excellent recreation of those recitations.
When I was in high school in Silver City, few of us had cars. So Herb Toy's father let us use his grocery delivery van. There were usually at least a half-dozen of us hanging out in the back as Herb cruised around town. It was quite a social gathering place. And we didn't get into too much mischief.
One of the great pleasures of this job is having an audience for such musings. Thanks for staying to the end.
WED, 12-31-08

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


Monday, December 22, 2008

12-29 Results of 2008 Predictions

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- It's time to see how I did on my 2008 predictions.
For beginners, I picked the winners of the four open congressional seats. Remember, at this point last year, candidates hadn't even filed yet.
U.S. Senate -- Tom Udall over Steve Pearce. Right, all the way. Udall and Pearce won their primaries. Udall took the general election.
1st Congressional District -- Daren White over Martin Heinrich. White and Heinrich both won their primaries. Heinrich took the general election. Score me only 2 out of 3 on that one.
2nd Congressional District -- Too wild to call. My only comment was that since Steve Pearce and former Rep. Harold Runnels both were oil field service company owners from Hobbs, that meant unknown Harry Teague might rise to the top and become the first Democrat since Runnels, 28 years ago, to win the seat. He did.
3rd Congressional District -- Ben Ray Lujan over Marco Gonzales. Lujan overcame Don Wiviott's millions to win the primary. I didn't see Dan East sneaking up on Gonzales. Neither did Gonzales.
After New Mexico not winning anything in its first try in the Rose Parade, I predicted our space alien float would garner a prize this year. It did. One of the top three.
I predicted Gov. Bill Richardson would make it through the Feb. 3 primaries. He didn't make it past early January.
I predicted Richardson would return to New Mexico and become governor again. He didn't. Two weeks after the Super Bowl, he endorsed Sen. Barack Obama and was out of state even more than when he was a candidate himself.
I predicted Richardson wouldn't get a vice presidential nod and that if a Democrat won in November, he wouldn't receive a good enough offer to take him away from "the best job in the world" as governor of New Mexico. Score me 1 out of 2 on that prediction.
I predicted former Gov. Gary Johnson would interrupt his training schedule long enough to surface somewhere. He did, at independent presidential candidate Ron Paul's alternative convention in St. Paul. Johnson was a featured speaker.
I predicted Manny Aragon, David Iglesias, Sam Bregman and cockfighting would be back in the news. They were. I predicted Erika Ruiz wouldn't be back in the news. You don't even remember who she is, do you?
I predicted 2006 GOP gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl would be located and would begin sharing his opinions again. Dendahl surfaced in Colorado near where he went to college. He shares his opinions through a Web site called "Family Security Matters."
I said Santa Fe gasoline prices would fall the day the Legislature opened and shoot back up the day it adjourns. The Santa Fe oil cartel doesn't want to anger lawmakers from around the state with its higher prices. Occasionally lawmakers have asked the attorney general to investigate. Next year, it may not matter. Too many other factors are influencing the price of gas and lawmakers will be concentrating on how to overcome an almost $500 million deficit.
I said the sky would not fall no matter who wins the presidency. That was back when there were about 15 candidates. The sky almost fell even before the general election. The economic crisis has affected just about everyone's life, here and elsewhere.
And it seems to be just like a Nostradamus prediction. No one warned that it was coming, but now that it has, many experts knew it all along.
I predicted the Legislature would continue to do almost nothing with ethics reforms recommended by a blue-ribbon panel that has been working on them for three years. I couldn't have been more spot on.
I predicted there would be more news about our most famous New Mexican, Billy the Kid. That has been going slower than expected. But stay tuned.
Results -- a whole lot better than all the astrologers you heard from last year at this time.
MON, 12-29-08

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

I'll be out of office rest of week. Can be reached by email or cell: 505-699-9982.  Merry Christmas,  J

Sunday, December 21, 2008

12-26 Year's Pay For No Work

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Untrained state government managers are costing New Mexico's taxpayers big bucks. And it's about to get bigger.
KRQE News 13, in Albuquerque, reports that the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys is paying a soon-to-retire state employee a year's wages to stay home rather than going to the trouble of firing her for being disrespectful and lying about her work duties.
The agency director Randy Saavedra says, "It's either that or be tied up in court or whatever the process is with the review board."
Saavedra says he was told by the state Risk Management Division that the cost of a lawyer, possible appeals and punitive damages could cost the state thousands of dollars.
That means the prudent thing to do with taxpayer money is to pay almost all this employee's $54,000 annual salary rather than paying thousands of dollars for lawyers, appeals and punitive damages?
The simple answer is management training for all employees hired or moving up to a supervisory level. It would save the cost of lawyers, appeals and punitive damages.
The state of New Mexico has a Personnel Act that covers the hiring and firing of employees. The reason for the act is that when Gov. Jack Campbell took office in January 1963, he was surprised to find that nobody showed up to work that day.
He was told it was customary for the new governor to fire everyone and hire his friends. Campbell didn't think that was the way to run a state so he called in his friend Ray Powell from Sandia Corporation to help him get a personnel law in place.
Among many items in the law is a section governing the discharge of employees. By following the procedure and using progressive discipline, employees can be fired for cause.
It should be part of every new manager's training. But it seems there is no training for new management personnel. And then they receive bad advice from the lawyers at the state Risk Management Division.
If supervisors do their jobs correctly, an administrative review of a discharge is likely the most that will ever happen. Most lawyers wouldn't want to take a case on to court because of the small chance of winning. And punitive damages would be out of the question.
It is especially disturbing that the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys is making this blunder. Attorneys should know better. Of course, district attorneys deal with criminal offenses, not civil. And as one of them is quoted by KRQE, if this employee had committed a criminal offense, firing would be justified.
Well, yes, it would. But most employees don't commit criminal offenses on the job.
To make matters even worse, KRQE learned that in the past few years, at least two other employees in the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys have been put on paid leave for months instead of being fired.
Aha, more employees are catching on. The word is getting around. When you are nearing retirement, start misbehaving on the job and get your last year's pay with no work.
What's more, the state Risk Management Division advises all agencies of state government. It wouldn't be giving this advice only to one small agency. Any employee in state government is eligible for the gravy train.
My advice to state government is immediate management training going for all supervisors. There are plenty of good trainers around who can provide it. It also can be done through college courses. And don't worry about the cost. The state will save money by not paying annual salaries to problem employees on leave.
Look at what other states around us are doing. Gov. Janet Napolitano, in Arizona, has instituted an outstanding program.
Also look at training programs for new state employees. They need to be taught the rules and regulations and not just hope to pick it up from co-workers.
FRI, 12-26-08

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


Saturday, December 20, 2008

12-24 Will Christmas Traditions Change?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- We'll be spending Christmas in Phoenix again this year. It's easier on the kids and grandkids. Besides our son-in-law always seems to be on call at Mayo Hospital on Christmas Day.
The entire family would rather be in Santa Fe's snow, farolitos, pine trees and icicles. Some day it may start happening again but until then, we will have to muse along with Irving Berlin about the white Christmas we are missing.
The Arizona Biltmore Hotel, in Phoenix, claims Berlin wrote "White Christmas" while sitting beside its magnificent pool. The verse of the song mentions orange and palm trees swaying but it also mentions being in L.A. where Berlin spent time writing movie scores.
The Biltmore says Berlin also was known to stay at that hotel and write songs. The only reason he didn't say Phoenix is that it doesn't rhyme with much of anything.
The Biltmore has been a landmark for nearly 80 years and has hosted many stars. Its pool is said to have been Marilyn Monroe's favorite. Many political events also are held there, including John McCain's election night party.
New Yorkers, of course, say Berlin wrote the song there despite the orange and palm tree references. They contend that since Berlin didn't read or write music, he composed on a piano, which would have been difficult by the pool.
Maybe Berlin wrote it both places. Since he wrote both words and music, he might have written the words by the Biltmore pool. Regardless, it has been the world's most popular song.
Berlin got the secular Christmas music tradition started on Tin Pan Alley with "White Christmas." Numerous others followed during the 1940s, mostly written by Jewish songwriters.
They weren't offended about Christmas. Many were immigrants, as was Berlin, and they were embracing everything American. And since America is majority Christian, they were willing to participate in the experience without partaking of the religious aspect.
But today the attitude seems to be different. We worry about offending others. happy holidays has replaced merry Christmas in stores and in public places.
The problem isn't that there is a law against Christmas greetings and Christmas displays. Maybe it is a fear that in our litigious society there will be court suits from non-Christians so its easier to save the hassle and back down.
There still are Christmas displays on public property but there will usually be a plastic reindeer or a Santa Claus thrown in. Three years ago, when New Mexico provided the tree for the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Dennis Hastert decreed that it would be renamed the Capitol Christmas Tree instead of the Capitol Holiday Tree.
Actually, the observance of Christmas has had a mixed history in the United States. Early settlers on the East Coast strictly opposed Christmas celebrations because they encouraged public drunkenness, shooting and swearing.
And since the Bible doesn't mention Dec. 25, the date must have been derived from pagan customs. The attitude spread to mainstream churches. Throughout the 1800s, mainstream churches still were trying to hold the line on Christmas celebrations by not accepting the day as a holy one.
But gradually feelings began to change. Clement Clarke Moore's "Visit From St. Nicolas" at mid-century gave a family feeling to Christmas. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast's cartoons created an image of a jolly Santa who gave gifts to children.
By the early 1900s, the retail industry had caught on that Christmas could become a buying bonanza. It is now abundantly obvious where that has led.
Will Christmas always be celebrated in the manner it is now? Will tough economic times mean a long term de-emphasis on compulsive buying? It appears that is what happened this year. Retail merchants are feeling a major pinch. And Christian churches are urging their congregations to find ways to make Christmas a more spiritual day.
Our nation always has had a dynamic society. Change could be coming.
WED, 12-24-08

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


Thursday, December 18, 2008

12-22 NM's Most Enduring Tradition

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- "Corruption is the most enduring tradition in New Mexico's history."
Those are the words of my favorite historian, Dave Clary of Roswell reacting to last week's column about New Mexico ranking low in a recent study to identify the most corrupt states in the nation.
USA Today analyzed Department of Justice statistics for the past 10 years to find the states with the most convictions of public officials per 100,000 population.
New Mexico turned out to be one of the least corrupt states, according to that measure. Illinois was only the 18th most corrupt. I suggested reasons the study might be flawed. Readers have e-mailed with their ideas.
Jeffrey Fields of Alamogordo suggests that the reason places such as Chicago and New Mexico rank lower in corruption than expected is that residents are accustomed to corruption being "the way things are done" so it is accepted and seldom exposed or prosecuted.
Michael Johnston, a college professor, says places that gain a bad reputation then become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Expectations build up and office holders replicate those expectations when they get to the top of the ladder.
All three of these explanation have a similar theme. Clary says that in the 1600s, Spain exercised considerable oversight to keep governors and army officers in its far-flung provinces from enriching themselves. It limited their terms, subjected them to audits and forced them to settle dubious accounts before they were free to return to private life.
But this control faded by the 1700s. Political offices were purchased and treated as money-making propositions. The tradition of "la mordida" became well established throughout New Spain.
Then came the early 1800s, when Mexico's long battle for independence left it in no condition to govern itself. So the worst excesses of the old regime were perpetuated, especially in the northern provinces of New Mexico, Texas and California.
During the Mexican period, government in New Mexico was characterized by absolute, self-serving corruption in all offices. Judges extracted arbitrary fees from those appearing before them.
The opening of trade over the Santa Fe Trail opened wonderful new opportunities for graft and Gov. Manuel Armijo became our state's most notorious crooked politician.
By 1846 Armijo owned most of Albuquerque and had trading interests from Missouri to Chihuahua. He used his office to line his pockets at every turn. Evidence seems to indicate that he committed the most outrageous possible corruption by selling New Mexico to Steven Watts Kearny's army in 1846.
During the next four years, while New Mexico was under military rule, some military commanders managed to feather their nests in concert with Anglo traders and Indian agents.
Out of this was born the notorious Santa Fe Ring, which made our territorial government a synonym for official thievery for decades to come. The Ring combined greedy businessmen and lawyers with government officials, scattered from top to bottom, in all three branches of government.
Thanks to Dave Clary for this information. Much of this will be in his "Eagles and Empire," which Random House will release next July.
Other good books on the period, written by New Mexicans, include "Eagle Across the Sun," by Don Brittain of La Luz, which covers the 1800-1848 period and "New Mexico's Troubled Years," by Calvin Horn, which covers our territorial governors from 1851 to 1881.
The Ring lasted for decades. Even after Congress decided we had tamed down enough to become a state, we had a wild ride through prohibition, with illegal gambling, sanctioned by governors.
That era ended with the death of Cricket Coogler in 1949 and the revelation that the Cleveland Mafia was about to make Santa Fe the gambling capital of the world after Bugsy Siegal failed in Las Vegas.
Clary suggests that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojavich may have taken a page out of Gov. Armijo's book by following his advice that it is better to look brave than actually be brave. It appears Blagojavich also may be all talk.
MON, 12-22-08

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


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

12-19 Val Kilmer on Denish's Team?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What kind of governor will Diane Denish be? There are some signs that our current lieutenant governor may do us a rather good job.
Barring confirmation difficulties, it appears Gov. Bill Richardson will be leaving us sometime around the end of January to become the next secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department.
There shouldn't be many surprises for Denish. She has interned as lieutenant governor for six years. During the first four years, she and Richardson were close and she was involved in much of what he did.
During the past two years, she hasn't seen much more of him than the rest of us but she has served as acting governor during that period. Obviously Richardson still was in control through his top staff but Denish got to witness how things work.
She has done well presiding over the Senate, a sometimes unruly body, which has been known to confound previous lieutenant governors and to cause many problems for our current governor.
Denish gives the impression of being a well organized business woman who is interested in governmental efficiency and effectiveness.
She won't have the opportunity to be as bold as Gov. Richardson because she won't have the big state revenue increases he had. But she will have the opportunity to show her skills in cutting unnecessary expenses and helping government work smarter.
Richardson was pretty good at such things himself but his cost saving successes got lost amid his grand initiatives. We wrote recently about New Mexico improving its report card in the Pew Center's ranking of the states. In 1999, we rated a C-. By 1995, we moved up to a C+. And now in 2008, we have attained a B-.
Our improvements can be attributed to measures introduced by Gov. Richardson to strengthen management weaknesses. Those included steps to prioritize capital spending, which had been distributed almost totally through legislative pork projects.
Other improvements included a consolidation of information technology services, the installation of an advanced human resources system and a long term planning system.
Obviously we still have a way to go before becoming a Grade A state in governmental efficiency and effectiveness. But Denish may be just the person we need to help get us there.
Denish definitely will have some initiatives of her own. Rural small business, women's issues and the needs of children have been priorities and will continue to be. But she'll have to implement them without loads of money.
Recently Denish gave evidence of her smarts when she appointed actor Val Kilmer to her gubernatorial transition team. Kilmer has given some indication of an interest in challenging Denish for governor in 2010.
His appointment by Denish could backfire by piquing Kilmer's interest in running our government even more. But then it also could arouse an appreciation for Denish's attention to him and a desire to help her administration in areas where he could be of service, such as the film industry.
And if Kilmer blows it off by not being an active participant but decides to challenge Denish in 2010, she has the perfect ammunition to point out that she offered him an opportunity to see the inner workings of our government and he wasn't interested.
Denish's likely ascendancy to the governor's office does have its downside for me, however. For the past 14 years, I have felt truly blessed by having Govs. Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson to write about.
I woke up every morning knowing that if I couldn't find anything else to write about that day, there always was another interesting angle to explore concerning two of the most colorful governors New Mexico has ever seen.
With Johnson, it was his unpredictability and irreverence about standard practice. With Richardson, it was his energy and ambition. We may not need another flamboyant governor like those two. But it surely would make some of our jobs easier.
FRI, 12-19-08

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


Saturday, December 13, 2008

12-17 Political Corruption in New Mexico?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexicans worry about political corruption in our state. In the past few years, we've seen two state treasurers and a state Senate president pro tem get jail time.
One of those treasurers is reported to have told a private money manager he was attempting to shake down "This is the way we do business in New Mexico."
So is that the way we do business in New Mexico? Are we really the most corrupt state in the nation as some of us like to say?
We now have some new evidence as a result of nationwide interest created by a comment from the head of the FBI's Chicago office who said, "If Illinois isn't the most corrupt state in the United States it's certainly one hell of a competitor."
The comment prompted water cooler conversations around the nation, as evidenced by several e-mails I received from people who googled "political corruption."
They found a column I wrote two years ago when 2006 GOP gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl moved to Colorado because he said New Mexico had become far too politically corrupt.
At the time, I was able to find a study from the late 1990s of public corruption convictions per 100 elected officials the federal government had won between 1986 and 1995.
New Mexico ranked slightly under the national average of two convictions per 100 elected officials. Colorado was slightly less corrupt than us.
Following up on the comment by the Chicago FBI official, USA Today updated the statistics I previously cited. They searched Department of Justice statistics from 1998 to 2007 and found that Illinois was only the 18th most corrupt state on a per capita basis.
New Mexico was one of the least corrupt with 1.5 convictions per 100,000 population during the 10-year period. Colorado was close behind at 1.6. Nebraska appeared to be the lowest of all at 0.7 convictions. It was the only one I found below 1.0 convictions.
On the other end, North Dakota ranked highest at 8.3 convictions, followed by Louisiana at 7.7 and Arkansas at 7.5. per 100,000 residents.
Obviously the methodology isn't perfect. The rankings of Louisiana and Arkansas probably aren't a surprise. But North Dakota as most corrupt, with South Dakota and Montana not far behind?
Maybe they are better at rooting out corruption. Maybe their U.S. attorneys are better prosecutors. Maybe their juries are more inclined to convict. And maybe using a per capita measure isn't completely fair. All states have some of the same public officials. But then, other small states ranked among the least corrupt.
Other confounding factors could be that corruption in some states may go undetected or be accepted. Also some corruption is prosecuted in state court. These two studies used U.S. Department of Justice statistics because that is much easier than contacting every state.
A possible explanation for North Dakota's ranking could be that it doesn't have much in the way of ethics laws to provide guidance to public officials and to set standards of behavior. If there is no state corruption law to break, the official has to be prosecuted under federal law and that is what this study measures.
Most states seem to be having the same trouble as New Mexico in getting ethics legislation passed. And the problem usually seems to be the same. It is logical that the legislation should apply to all three branches of government.
Legislatures are good about thinking the other two branches should be guided by ethics laws but not themselves. The New Mexico Senate is famous for arguing that it doesn't need it. That isn't likely to change much in the upcoming legislature despite the guilty plea from its former president pro tempore.
And there is the interesting argument over whether Democrats or Republicans are more corrupt. The answer is it depends on who is in power. Why bribe someone who can't do anything for you?
WED, 12-17-08

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


Thursday, December 11, 2008

12-15 Getting to Know Alice King

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Alice King's list of accomplishments would fill more than this entire page. But that's not what made her unique. Those who came in contact with her while working on the long list of her charities got to know the real Alice King.
My wife, Jeanette, and daughter, Melissa, were on the original board of the New Mexico Children's Foundation, formed during the latter years of Gov. Bruce King's third administration.
They both have vivid memories of the day Alice gathered a group to present the concept of the New Mexico Children's Foundation. Melissa says Alice pulled her aside before the meeting to tell her she was invited for her own skills and knowledge and not as an extension of her mother.
In typical Alice King fashion, she had made our daughter feel very appreciated and important. Melissa was working at the state Youth Authority at the time. She now owns her own business in Phoenix.
Alice explained that she wanted to help children in the state who could not get help in any other way. They were the ones falling through the cracks that federal and state money didn't help.
There had to be a way to help them, she said. And also in true Alice King fashion, she asked for a commitment from each person prior to leaving the table. Alice was nice, pleasant and always smiling but she also was tough and wanted everyone to share her passion for helping children.
Jeanette was given a list of business people to call for financial support or to serve as board members, or both.
As soon as she said, "Alice gave me your name and asked me to call you," Jeanette says their responses indicated they knew they were in for a lot of work but knew they had better not decline because the next call would be from Alice.
And they knew Alice's commitment to children. They knew she would tell them "We must do what's right for children and you must help." Jeanette says she doesn't know of anyone who turned Alice down.
Alice was equally tough in promoting creation of the Children, Youth and Families Department in 1992. She would buttonhole lawmakers who opposed the idea of another cabinet department, saying, "It is unacceptable for children not to be cared for." And she wouldn't back down.
The measure passed the Legislature with few dissenting votes. Rep. Bob Light of Carlsbad personally donated $100,000 to help the department get started immediately.
That same determination and commitment led to the creation of Girls Ranch. Boys ranches were popular but the prevailing attitude was that girls should be at home with their families. Alice countered that families often are the problem.
Alice continued her fight until Girls Ranch was established in 1980. She arranged for donation of land near Lamy, the construction of a road and the drilling of a well. She then enlisted women's clubs throughout the state to help with the building and furnishing of cottages and the sponsorship of girls.
Alice King came a long way during her husband's three gubernatorial terms. When he was elected in 1970, she had never been anything but a farm wife and was proud of it.
During Bruce's first administration, she learned the finer points of entertaining, with the help of several campaign supporters from Santa Fe, including Jeanette.
By the second King administration, from 1979-82, Alice had begun to take an active role in volunteer programs and children's issues. By the campaign for the third administration, the Kings were advertising that New Mexico would get two for one.
After the end of that third administration, Jeanette became executive director of the New Mexico Children's Foundation and our dining room became the NMCF executive committee meeting room.
Sitting in the living room, often with Bruce, I got to listen to Alice's determined leadership first-hand. It was inspiring to hear someone as forceful as she was without ever raising her voice.
MON, 12-15-08

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


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

12-12 State GOP Split May Widen

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- How much does it tear up a political party to have a hotly contested primary election? Conventional wisdom says it is a bad idea. Party leaders should step in, broker some withdrawals and unite behind a candidate.
National Republican leaders did just that last spring. After the first several presidential primaries, they stepped in and declared Sen. John McCain the eventual winner.
From there, the withdrawals began. McCain had three extra months to consolidate his campaign, while Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought it out, down to almost the final delegate.
The predictions were that the protracted battle would result in neither candidate's supporters being willing to back the other. But it wasn't long before Clinton began making appearances for Obama and delivering the majority of women's votes.
And now we see a cabinet filled with former presidential opponents and Bill Clinton administration staffers. Some have called it a team of rivals after Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about the political genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Gov. Bill Richardson disagrees that the former presidential office seekers should be called rivals because they are pledging themselves to the Obama team and seemingly to a united Democratic party at the national level.
So the long battle didn't seem to hurt. It may not have helped either but some credit the drawn out campaign with kindling interest in Americans who never had participated in the political process before.
In New Mexico, on the other hand, the state GOP had no luck getting either of two political heavyweights to stay out of the primary contest to replace Sen. Pete Domenici
U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce both wanted it enough to give up their House seats in order to run for the Senate. Both lost and both have hard feelings.
Those feelings, however, existed prior to the primary campaigns. For some time, a battle has existed between what might be described as moderate and conservative wings of the GOP.
Wilson, representing the moderate wing, and Pearce, the conservative, served to deepen that divide. Wilson insisted that only Republican moderates can win statewide elections.
Republican voters weren't convinced and selected Pearce to take on Rep. Tom Udall. Instead of running toward the middle as candidates of both parties tend to do in general elections, Pearce ran as a strict conservative and lost by a big margin.
Wilson and her backers contend that proves her point. Pearce and his backers contend that if Wilson had been helping in the general election instead of continuing to work against Pearce, he would have run a stronger race.
But the GOP split goes deeper than political philosophy. It involves personalities. Some of the people in the current Republican power structure have been rubbing party members the wrong way for years.
Pearce wants to take over the reins of the state GOP and promises to bring in new faces as party staff, consultants and fundraisers.
Blogger Joe Monahan reports that this Saturday Republicans will hold an emergency meeting in Albuquerque to decide whether to stay with the schedule for party officer elections on January 10 or postpone them until late February. Monahan says it essentially will be a test vote on who has the power in the state GOP.
Possibly state Republicans would have been as badly split even without a contentious Senate primary but it certainly didn't do anything to help them.
Whatever else happens, Heather Wilson may not enjoy much more Republican support in the state. Sen. Pete Domenici was her biggest backer and won't have the power to help much anymore. And she's burned a lot of bridges since the primary election.
But don't be surprised to see her land on her feet. She's highly talented, with a great background in national security. Those qualities should enable her to do just fine in Washington if that's what she decides she wants to do.
FRI, 12-12-08

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


Sunday, December 07, 2008

12-10 New Mexico Ups Ranking

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE – Is New Mexico state government better than it was 10 years ago? The Pew Center on the States thinks so. In its "Grading of the States 2008" New Mexico's overall grade is a B-. In this year's survey, states range from an A- to a D+. So B- is a little above average, which New Mexico state government isn't accustomed to being very often.
Even more promising is New Mexico's move up the rankings. On our 1999 report card, we rated a C-. By 2005, we had moved up to a C+ and now we're at a B-. What has caused this increase?
The study states: "In the past five years, New Mexico has taken strong steps toward addressing some of its most glaring management weaknesses, including what may have been the worst method of capital spending in the country."
Instead of having a centralized planning process for its infrastructure, the state simply divided capital funds into three equal portions, one each for the governor, the House and the Senate.
Then the House and Senate money was split further by dividing much of it among legislators. "Everything was political," said the study. "Hardly were any of the decisions based on rational planning."
Most of us remember those days well because they weren't that long ago. Cities and counties won capital construction projects based on which had the best connected lobbyists. And the Lobbyists made out like bandits.
When Gov. Bill Richardson came into office in 2003, he announced that infrastructure spending henceforth would be based on a statewide list of priorities. Lawmakers went ballistic. Their reelection campaigns were based on who could bring home the bacon. No one was going to break into that sacred treasure chest.
It appeared a standoff of titanic proportions was inevitable. But Richardson was enjoying a honeymoon with voters and lawmakers during his first months in office. Legislative leaders knew they couldn't win this one. The governor had both logic and popularity on his side.
So negotiations began on how much of its money the Legislature would give up to be used for identified priorities throughout the state. Each year, the governor has been able to chip away a little bigger chunk of the Legislature's portion to be combined with the governor's and used toward identified priorities.
The remainder is still split the traditional way but most legislators have agreed to pool their money toward funding priorities in their regions.
Other improvements noted by the Pew study include a consolidation of information technology services into one new cabinet department and one consolidated computer system. The system, known as SHARE, had a very bumpy road originally as Gov. Richardson tried to implement it too quickly and too cheaply. Now that most of its bumps are getting smoothed out, the system is proving its worth.
The study also compliments the installation of an advanced human resources system which has given workforce planning a boost, and a long-term planning system that assigns departments with the responsibility to fulfill their portions of the state's strategic plan.
New Mexico now ranks above some of its neighbors. Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada and California all are in the C category. Arizona and Texas are Bs. Utah is one of three A-minuses in the nation, along with Washington State and Virginia.
Utah, the Beehive State, long known for its industriousness and efficiency, has been a leader in governmental innovation over the years.
Utah was the first state to go to the four-day-week. It closes most non-essential state government offices on Fridays. It did so after careful planning and analysis of the increased information technology pressures it would place on state government to allow citizen access to government services on Fridays.
Hawaii followed soon after, learning from Utah's careful preparation. The two states have a close relationship. If you don't believe it, check out the football rosters of their college teams.

WED, 12-10-08

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


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

12-5 Southwest Gives Up Two Governors

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano beat New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to a cabinet post in the Barack Obama administration by two days.
Originally Richardson's appointment as Commerce Secretary was to be announced before Napolitano's, but Obama decided to leave him off economic team announcements.
For awhile that was interpreted to be a slight or an indication that Richardson had problems. But now, it is being interpreted by the national press as an attempt by President-Elect Obama to give Bill his own special time in the spotlight.
Why? Because Richardson apparently came in second for secretary of state, which disappointed him and had the Hispanic community upset. That may be why Richardson gave part of his speech in Spanish and didn't translate it.
Some of Napolitano's first announcements may give us an idea of what to expect here and they don't bode well with those who are anxious to get on with it.
Napolitano says she plans to stick around Arizona until her confirmation as Homeland Security Secretary is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Late January is a pretty good target date.
That means she will be present for the opening of the Arizona Legislature on January 12 and will be working on $1.2 billion in necessary budget cuts until then.
Richardson could have a very similar schedule. He'll have some pet programs he will want to protect from a sometimes unfriendly Legislature and an incoming governor with whom there is some friction.
But his problems are nothing like Napolitano's. She must protect her pet programs from a Republican-controlled legislature and an incoming Republican governor.
Supporters of traditional Democratic causes are aghast. They envision many programs being shoved aside as Republican leaders rub their hands in eager anticipation.
Not only will pet projects be on the chopping block, the 2009 Arizona Legislature may be very busy reintroducing many of the 180 bills she has vetoed in the past six years.
Arizona doesn't have a lieutenant governor. The state constitution passes the governorship down the line of state elected officials, according to their position on the ballot. And that makes Secretary of State Jan Brewer Arizona's next governor.
As a member of the Arizona Legislature for many years, Brewer introduced constitutional amendments creating an office of lieutenant governor. At the time Brewer's main argument was that secretaries of state generally are unqualified to ascend to governor.
Brewer has no comment on the current situation although she is better qualified than most because of her legislative experience.
Whereas New Mexico has had great stability in the governor's office for many years, such is not the case for Arizona. Prior to Gov. Napolitano, three of the last six governors had moved up from secretary of state and one had moved up from attorney general, the next Arizona office in line.
For a state with politics as stormy as Arizona, having a lieutenant governor-in-waiting is a good idea. Of the three governors elected before Napolitano, Gov. Evan Mecham was impeached and Gov. Fife Symington was convicted.
Many political watchers had felt Obama would pass over Napolitano because she's about the only Democrat who seems able to win statewide office in Arizona. She was considered a top prospect against Sen. John McCain in the 2010 Arizona U.S. Senate race.
The situation in Arizona will be interesting to watch because it involves a switch in parties between Gov. Napolitano and her successor. Will Gov. Brewer and her Republican legislative colleagues run roughshod over Napolitano's policies upon which she was elected?
Most Democrats and some Republicans are predicting it. When Republicans gained control of the governor's office and both houses of the legislature in Texas and Colorado earlier this decade, they immediately redrew congressional districts in their states to give Republicans more seats
No one is predicting that in Arizona, but it could happen.
FRI, 12-05-08

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

There will be no column for Mon., 12-8.