Inside the Capitol

Thursday, January 20, 2011

1-24 Two New Sheriffs In Town

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- There are two new sheriffs in town. Is Santa Fe big enough to hold both of them? It will have to. And it will be interesting to watch.
Ever since her election, Gov. Susana Martinez has been referred to as the new sheriff in town. It fits. She spent many years as a prosecutor. Her husband Chuck Franco, was also in law enforcement, capping his career as an under-sheriff.
But the day before the legislature convened, another sheriff appeared in town. The Tea Party arrived to ensure that the 12 new House Republicans it had elected followed their laws.
And the first law was "Thou shalt not vote for a Democrat for House speaker." That made it tough on the other new sheriff.
Gov. Martinez and House Republican leaders had cooked up a deal with some southern Democrats to unseat House Speaker Ben Lujan with Democrat Joseph Cervantes, of Las Cruces.
That deal looked like it might work until a posse of Tea Partiers arrived in town and a stampede of emails demanded that every House Republican vote for a fellow Republican for speaker.
So at the last minute, the deal was off. There had been hope among Republicans that with Cervantes as speaker, he and Gov. Martinez could work together to pass some great legislation., as one Republican leader phrased it.
It didn't happen. And it probably wouldn't have anyway. With the Tea Partiers' insistence that all Republicans vote for a Republican for speaker, they were saying no compromises. If we can't have it all, we'll take nothing. And that's what they got.
That philosophy is typical of both the far right and far left -- neither of which the Tea Partiers say they are. If you aren't with us 100 percent of the time, you aren't with us and we'll work to defeat you in the next election.
So if the Tea Party influence continues throughout the session, there wouldn't have been any chance of a Martinez-Cervantes coalition passing the "great legislation" for which some Republicans had hoped.
Why? Because any legislation a governor is going to get through a Legislature controlled by the other party is going to require some compromise. And the Tea Party doesn't appear to allow such a thing.
Martinez's deputies obviously saw that ambush coming and it may have affected her opening day remarks to the Legislature.
If she were looking at working with a Cervantes-led coalition, she might have been a little more Reaganesque in trying to charm her opposition into working with her for a better New Mexico.
Instead, her message seemed to be more one of don't mess with me because I'm tough and you're not going to get away with anything. The majority of the audience were supporters who came to listen to their new governor. And they loved it.
How is all this going to work out? Will it be a bitter fight the next two years leading up to the 2012 election when all 112 lawmakers will have to defend their seats? It could happen.
Lujan's election positions Republicans to run against the Ben Lujan Legislature the way they used to run against the "Manny and Ray" Legislature in the 1990s.
And remember, Lujan was former Gov. Bill Richardson's biggest supporter in the Legislature. This enables Republicans to run against Richardson again in 2012.
But my guess is that it won't happen quite that way. Lujan needs every vote he can get to hold his party together. He can't be as vindictive as he was the last time he was challenged. He's a practical politician. He'll work with others.
Likewise, I imagine Gov. Martinez will be more practical than she is sounding for her true believers right now. She knows she is being watched nationally by people who want to know if she can get things done. Two years of gridlock and she will fall off many radar screens.
MON, 1-24-11

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



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