Inside the Capitol

Saturday, March 26, 2011


WED, 3-16-11

SANTA FE -- it appears little will come of this session. Usually during the final week of the session, things start coming together and much legislation passes.
But this session can only be described as lethargic with occasional outbursts of emotions. This isn't a recipe for the bold action Gov.-elect Susana Martinez promised. The truth is that New Mexico never has seen the bold action it experienced during the eight years of the Richardson administration.
Any other governor pales in comparison. Had Martinez followed any other governor, we might not have noticed much difference. But for eight years, Richardson controlled the action. There weren't any other real leaders.
House Speaker Ben Lujan brought the House along, supporting Richardson's initiatives. The Senate fought him but majority floor leader Michael Sanchez always was looking over his shoulder to be sure he was leading the majority of his troops in the direction they wanted to go.
So now lawmakers are left without anyone of the Manny Aragon, Raymond Sanchez, Aubrey Dunn or John Mershon variety who would pick up the cudgel and say, Here's what we're going to do." It's not that today's leaders are not capable of such actions. It's just that they aren't accustomed to doing it since Gov. Richardson was such a powerful force that he called all the signals.
One major power Richardson used to full advantage was his line-item veto authority. He could threaten to veto the pork projects of any recalcitrant lawmaker. Gov. Martinez has said she will veto all pork . That's not a bad idea from a public policy standpoint but it weakens her hand significantly.
Of course, accomplishing nothing isn't too bad an idea either. The only bill that has to pass is the budget measure. Very little else has. With a week left in the session, only one bill had reached the governor's desk. That was the so-called "feed bill" that funds the Legislature.
Former Gov. Bruce King who vetoed many a bill in his time, always insisted the Legislature passes far too many bills anyway. He said many of the bills he passed early in his legislative career, he later introduced measures to repeal.
Very little is coming out of the governor's office other than law enforcement messages. Many reports are coming in about the difficulty of gaining access to the governor herself. Everything is being filtered through top aides.
During the 2010 political campaigns, gubernatorial and legislative candidates said their top priority was jobs, jobs, jobs. We're not hearing about jobs now. Neither Gov. Martinez nor legislators are talking about what they promised would be their top priority. No one took the leadership.
Consequently we now have a leadership vacuum. Or so it seems. It is possible that Gov. Martinez – or someone else – is quietly making major changes. Deep beneath the surface, agency regulations may be loosening. Maybe they are being overlooked or not being enforced. If so, we aren't getting the transparent government we were promised.
I'm getting reports that new managers are calling employees into their offices and informing them that they know everyone's party registration and who they supported for governor last year. And they are lowering salaries of everyone they can.
So maybe the bold initiatives the new governor promised were in the areas of law enforcement and taking driver's licenses from illegal aliens. In that case, it doesn't look like a very successful session. The driver's license bill died twice. But it did get debated, sometimes in a very rancorous manner.
Former state GOP chairman John Dendahl long tried to get Martinez to run for attorney general. It appears he had the right idea.
And the $450 million deficit the governor complained about quietly disappeared. Less that $200 million seems to have taken care of the problem. Or did we just kick the can a little farther down the road?


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