Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1-23 Richardson, Obama Seek to Mend Fences

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Seldom do New Mexicans get to digest a presidential inaugural address and a gubernatorial state of the state address both in one day. But this was a special year.
It was difficult to focus on Gov. Bill Richardson's opening speech to the New Mexico Legislature amid the day-long coverage of the inaugural in Washington.
In fact, it was difficult for anyone outside Santa Fe to see the speech. Albuquerque's Public Broadcasting System station carried it but with no promotion and no commentary.
Webcasting was supposed to be available this year but a handful of legislative leaders killed the project despite overwhelming support from rank and file lawmakers.
Gov. Richardson received an enthusiastic standing ovation when he entered the House chamber for his speech. It was a better reception than some had expected.
The governor acknowledged the situation in his opening remarks, saying, "I know there are some legislators who were looking forward to my departure. I'm sorry to disappoint you but I'll try to make it up to you somehow."
The remark diffused some tension but what did those last eight words mean? They didn't mean he would stop hitting them with more bold initiatives despite a sinking economy.
Richardson termed this year "The Year of Fiscal Restraint" and he proposed $450 million of budget cuts. But then he issued a call to action on a broad range of issues.
His efforts won't be helped by the reelection of Sen. Tim Jennings as president pro tem of the Senate. The two have clashed frequently and that is not going to end.
Jennings has promised that despite throwing in with Republicans to keep his seat, there won't be the animosities that were produced by previous coalition takeovers. This could well prove to be the check and balance a one-party government needs.
That would be good for fiscal restraint But it almost surely means continued Senate slaughter of governmental ethics, transparency and other reform legislation.
Both Richardson's and President Barack Obama's speeches were tempered with the gravity of present financial conditions but Obama's contained more life and optimism.
Possibly it reflected the difference between a man beginning a honeymoon with the nation, the world, and Congress and a man who finds himself even more of a lame duck than normal at this point.
Might Richardson be thinking of making up to the Legislature for his continued presence by leaving before the end of his term even if it's not for a spot in the Obama administration?
Even if it is true, Richardson is making attempts to patch up wounds by reaching out to past foes, including Sen. Jennings, whom he congratulated on retaining his leadership post.
But it would be hard to top the hand that President Obama has extended to his former rivals, whom he has put at the very top of his administration.
Although GOP opponent John McCain will hold no post in the Obama administration, it appears he will be a key player. When has an incoming president ever held an appreciation dinner for his opponent the night before his inauguration? And then Obama chief of staff Raum Emanuel sat next to McCain at the inauguration luncheon.
It is a well-deserved recognition of McCain's bipartisanship. Once he was free of his handlers, and sometimes even before, McCain was gracious toward Obama.
And the same is true of President Bush. This was likely the smoothest transition ever. Bush may have decided on that during the especially acrimonious transition from President Clinton.
Obama's attempts at reaching across the aisle are unprecedented. It was reported that he was the first president ever to walk the past president to his helicopter after the inauguration.
The bipartisan effort even seems to be working on congressional GOP leaders. After voting against the first item in Obama's stimulus package on Monday, many of them had nice things to say about it afterwards.
FRI, 1-23-09

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



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