Inside the Capitol

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March column

RTR March 09 Jay Miller


It's the final days of the 2009 Legislature and state employees are wondering what that might mean for them. In this year of budget cutting, there aren't many visions of sugarplums dancing in any heads.
Most jobs appear to be safe. But that's about it. Gubernatorial appointees have the most to sweat. But they knew that when they got the job. Salaries appear safe but employee contributions to insurance and retirement may take a hit.
Even that is hard to know. The governor has 20 days after the session ends to decide what he likes and doesn't. Then there's the special session later this spring, when the revenue picture looks clearer. And that's all complicated by the federal stimulus money and how it is used.
So, it's an even sillier season than usual. Lawmakers are meeting late into the night. State agencies are being asked for all sorts of information. And if you're a legislative employee, fergeddaboudit. Sleep happens sometime next week.


And how about that wild new temporary state agency to manage $1.8 billion in federal stimulus funds? That could certainly be a wild card. What's going to happen with that? Former Gov. Toney Anaya will be heading it, aided by a bunch of deputy secretaries and division directors from around state government. That's going to be the subject of a whole lot of conversations,.
Anyway, it will be good to see Tough Toney Anaya around again. Of course, he never disappeared but now he's going to be in the news a lot more. Not that Toney ever would do it, but he could do some gloating these days. His idea about a bullet train back in 1983 was ridiculed but now it is a reality.
Well, almost. It's not going to outrun any speeding bullets, but the Rail Runner does take passengers from Belen to Santa Fe. The United States just hasn't gotten into bullet trains yet like Europe and Asia, but maybe one of these days.
And as you may remember, Toney commuted the sentences of everyone on death row as he was leaving office. He couldn't get the death penalty repealed but that was the next best thing. Now, 23 years later, anti-death penalty legislation has passed both the House and Senate. As this is being written, we don't know what Gov. Bill Richardson will do with the measure when it reaches his desk.


And why did Gov. Richardson choose former Gov. Anaya instead of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish to head the Office of Recovery and Reinvestment? Are things that tense between the two? Or did Lady Di decide it might be best to steer clear of a governor whose popularity is on the wane in order to take on an issue as controversial as the stimulus?
Besides, awarding dozens of contracts can get dicey. The media and political opponents will be scrutinizing every single award to find out who knows who and who gave campaign contributions and when. Maybe she's better off this way. But I hope she was asked.
Lt. Gov. Denish still will have a piece of the action. She will be working with the governor's science adviser to seek more than New Mexico's share of billions available in separate competitive grants. Anything gained there would be a feather in her cap.
And Denish wants as many feathers in her cap as she can get. It's no secret that she has been preparing for some time to run for governor next year. As of now, she has no declared competition. But that doesn't keep people from talking about it. And it doesn't keep others from speculating.
Hollywood actor Val Kilmer continues to drop hints that he is seriously looking. It was reported recently that Kilmer has part of his Pecos River ranch up for sale. Does that mean he is putting together money for his campaign?
Not really. He's had that property for sale ever since he signed up for a slew of movie roles, several years ago, that he knew would keep him away from his ranch for long periods.
But money, even for a rich guy like Kilmer, is something to think about. Denish has money too. And she already has raised $2 million from others. She has enjoyed issuing campaign finance reports even more often than required just so everyone knows that she's way ahead of them.

When several new Democratic senators were elected last year, people in the progressive movement (That's the folks that used to be called liberals) figured this would be the year to achieve some goals that the state Senate had previously blocked.
But it hasn't been happening? The Senate leadership remained the same. Health care initiatives have stalled and domestic partnerships were defeated. But then came the victory for opponents to the death penalty. And the margin was much bigger than expected.
What does that mean for the chances of future progressive legislation? Maybe not much. New Mexico is a blue state but historically, it always has leaned toward the conservative. We remain a somewhat rural state. Add to that the federal installations that have moved in and we still remain pretty close to the center.


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