Inside the Capitol

Thursday, June 25, 2009

7-1 Sen. Bingaman Becoming More Influential

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman has never sought the limelight but he is poised to become more influential in Congress as a result of several factors.
Bingaman's reserved and studious nature is one of his strengths. It inspires trust from his colleagues. They know if they work on an issue with him, they can be sure he will do more than his share of the work and he won't call a press conference to take all the credit. As the years pass, Bingaman's steadiness has gained him more and more supporters in the U.S. Senate.
That approach doesn't necessarily win elections but New Mexico voters have returned Bingaman to the Senate by healthy margins ever since 1982. Even though he's not showy, it's great to send someone to Washington we know won't embarrass us.
Another reason for Bingaman's growing stature is his membership on three committees that will influence much of this year's major legislation.
As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bingaman will oversee all the alternative energy issues in Congress plus a huge Western land conservation package of nearly 170 bills.
In addition, Bingaman is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that is drawing up this year's controversial health care legislation. And he's the only member of that committee who also serves on the Senate Finance Committee which has to figure a way to pay for the health plan.
The two committees are far apart in what they want to see in a plan and Bingaman has been put in the role of a go-between to interpret the wishes of each committee to the other.
With the illness of Sen. Teddy Kennedy, the committee chairman, Sen. Chris Dodd has taken over chairing the committee while Bingaman has taken the role of expert on the many technical issues that must be resolved. He has been commended for his ability to reduce complex issues to pragmatic choices.
A recent photo of Bingaman and President Barack Obama in deep conversation in the White House rose garden may cast some light on their relationship. A guy like "no drama" Obama would have a lot in common with Bingaman. A Washington newsman recently compared the senator with movie legend Gary Cooper.
Lest Bingaman starts feeling too good about his rising stature, a PBS interviewer recently introduced him as John Bingaman. He's had some teasing about that.
One New Mexico reporter explained that John is his father's name, which isn't correct either. His father's name was Jess. An uncle named John was the person who got Jeff interested in politics and helped guide his early career. Jeff's and Ann's son is named after his uncle John.
* * *
New Mexico's Mine That Bird, winner of the Kentucky Derby and in the money at the second and third Triple Crown races, is now resuming serious work at Churchill Downs. Trainer Chip Woolley has been working him lightly since the Belmont.
Hanging out at Churchill Downs has been fun. Know one knew or paid any attention to Woolley or the horse before it won the Derby. Now they are celebrities. Woolley hangs out near a bar close to the winner's circle, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
Mine That Bird's next race will be the Aug. 1 West Virginia Derby, followed by the Aug. 29 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. The $1 million Travers is being billed as the possible race of the year because there is a possibility the winners of the other two Triple Crown races also will compete. That hasn't happened since 1982.
The ultimate goal for Mine That Bird this year will be the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7, at Santa Anita. The owners of Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra already have said their filly won't run on the synthetic track.
Following a previous column on Mine That Bird, P.J. Jurkowski, of La Mesa, NM, emailed to say I should also have mentioned the New Mexico bred mare Peppers Pride who was the only horse to win all 19 of her races. All of those races were in New Mexico so she didn't get the recognition she deserved.
WED, 7-01-09

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



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