Inside the Capitol

Friday, December 23, 2011

12-30 How clear was my crystal ball?

123011 crystal ball

SANTA FE – So how good were my predictions for the year? In keeping with long tradition, this column made predictions at the beginning of the year about New Mexico politics. Let's see how I did.
The first year of a new administration always is difficult to foresee. Would new governor, Susana Martinez, be able to carry out her campaign promises? This column will deal with those gubernatorial predictions.
Actually she has done a decent job of accomplishing her purposes. She's just doing it more subtly than expected. Her two predecessors, Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson, tended to do things with a flourish.
Gov. Martinez promised bold action. We wondered why she copied Gov. Richardson's slogan from eight years earlier until it was discovered that the words are out of the GOP's national playbook. Many new Republican governors around the country are using the same phrase.
Martinez announced that her top priority would be to cut $500 million out of the state budget but only proposed about a $150 million cut but, quietly, she has slashed much more by reducing staff and lowering salaries.
We predicted she would be different. And that, she is. We predicted she would listen carefully to her party advisers. She has done that more than any other governor.
Since government corruption was a major part of Martinez's campaign, we predicted an emphasis on ethics legislation during the regular legislative session. But, as usual, little happened.
We knew Gov. Martinez's concern about illegal aliens but we didn't mention the drivers' license issue. That became the cause she bled the most for during both the regular and special sessions.
The issue of voter fraud, a Republican staple everywhere, was left to new Republican s ecretary of state Dianna Duran. Since nothing has come of that, so far, Gov. Martinez has managed to avoid any fallout from the issue.
Reorganization was expected to be a major topic of the Legislature this year. The governor's office introduced legislation to merge departments but interest waned, just as we had predicted, when the projected savings didn't turn out to be as big as expected.
But Martinez has proceeded on her own, to quietly merge various functions of several departments.
Surprisingly, she has retained some of the public information officers that former Gov. Richardson had hired out of the media ranks. But they have assumed double duties with other departments and at a lower salary.
Other duties have been combined between departments and many more are expected. All cabinet secretaries were hired with the understanding that their departments might be combined with others and that their salaries could well be lowered.
It appears that Martinez will try to accomplish as much reorganizing as she can without legislative action. She may get away with quite a bit of reorganizing since many lawmakers also see a need for streamlining government.
At some point, a line will be drawn and the governor will find herself in court again for exceeding her powers. Some of that already has happened and Martinez has not fared well.
Quietly, she likely is very irritated but she hasn't taken the approach of former Gov. Johnson, who used to describe our Supreme Court as a bunch of guys who sit around and arrange chicken bones in order to reach decisions.
This seems to be Martinez's style. She hasn't directly confronted her opponents as some other new Republican governors have taken on unions in battles that end up in court or recall elections.
Her style is working, for now at least. Most polls show her popularity increasing since being elected. She is said to be one of only 11 governors in the nation with an approval rating of 50 percent or better. And she is the most popular of the new Republican governors.
Gov. Martinez has fared better than I expected for a district attorney who never had been to Santa Fe. Will next year be as tranquil or will behind-the-scenes tensions erupt?


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