Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

4-24What is Motivating Governor?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Things aren't always as they seem, especially in politics. Reasons are given for actions but that creates an entire industry of columnists, commentators and talking haircuts attempting to cut through the intrigue.
The biggest question among New Mexico state employees, other politicos and the media is what's next for Gov. Bill Richardson? That question doesn't have an answer yet. Much will depend on the grand jury considering pay-to-play allegations.
The probe is said to be moving aggressively, yet it appears stuck in neutral. Will the dismissal of charges against Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens cause other U.S. attorneys to become a little less aggressive?
Richardson says being governor of New Mexico is still the best job in the world, yet he appears a bit detached and he gave his first extensive interview on his current situation to the Washington Post. That interview has since been carried in some New Mexico newspapers, which use the Post's writers group.
Gov. Richardson told the Post that he is at peace in New Mexico, yet many suspect he will be out of here as quickly as possible. The Post interview ended with his comment that he still has years left ahead of him. Richardson is 61.
The governor confounded political observers during the past legislative session by signing a bill he had been talking about vetoing and vetoing a bill he had been talking about signing.
A measure to open conference committee meetings between House and Senate leaders had been on Richardson's agenda for years but when one finally passed, he indicated he was changing his mind. What could have caused that? Several answers have been proposed.
Richardson's stated answer was that the bill contained a big loophole allowing the House and Senate to vote not to close conference committee meetings if they changed their minds.
Proponents of the bill argued that the provision made the bill weaker but it was the only way to get the measure passed and it was better than no open conference committees at all. It appeared the bill's proponents suspected the loophole wasn't Richardson's real reason for suggesting he might veto it.
Senate leaders were known to be very much against the bill but when it passed they announced they were immediately opening conference committees.
At the first open conference committee, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Luna, a member of the conference committee, used it to embarrass House Speaker Ben Lujan. Did Lujan, who is close to the governor, recommend a veto to Richardson because he suspected the Senate might use it for more mischief?
Did Senate leaders inform the governor their next step would be to open his cabinet meetings? Although not mentioned often, Senate leaders worried that opening their conference committees would give the governor the unfair advantage of listening to their deliberations?
Governors sometimes use their veto power as a bargaining chip. Might he veto the bill to win a big concession from Senate leaders on some unknown issue? Or was he suggesting a possible change in positions to leverage something from the bill's proponents?
Then unexpectedly, the governor quietly signed the bill on a weekend.
The other surprise Richardson action came on the "double-dipper" bill to allow retired public employees to return to work and collect their regular pay, plus their retirement. The governor had indicated he would sign the bill but then vetoed it to the dismay of budget hawks who objected to the cost and state employees who felt it was unfair.
Gov. Richardson has appointed a task force to develop a better solution than the bill proposed.
Who got the governor turned around on this one? Columnist Carter Bundy says Richardson got some bad information. Newspapers have reported that Attorney Gen. Gary King recommended a veto because of unspecified legal problems. Some have suggested that King has many double-dippers on his staff.
The answer to this may be easier. Richardson wants to control the situation with a task force.
FRI, 4-24-09

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



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