Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

10-3 Lawyers Full Employment Act

100311 redistrict suits

SANTA FE – It wasn't intended to be a jobs creator but the recent special session stalemate over redistricting plans has effectively produced the Lawyers' Full Employment Act.
Without even waiting for Gov. Susana Martinez to exercise her threatened vetoes, three lawsuits were filed within two days of the special session's adjournment. So the courts, once again, will have to do the dirty work, aided by several million dollars' worth of lawyers.
Redistricting lawsuits have been filed in Bernalillo, Lea and Santa Fe counties. More may be on the way. It is likely the state Supreme Court will end up consolidating all suits into one and assigning a mutually agreeable district judge to hear the case and draw new maps.
Courts don't like to get involved in political battles so they will exercise as limited a role as possible. The prime consideration of the court will be the one person-one vote requirement. Districts must be as within five percent of the ideal. All the lawsuits are certain to use that standard as their reason for establishing their standing in court.
Certainly many districts are out of whack. Some have more than twice the population of others. The Lea County lawsuit contends that the legislative plans are biased in favor of urban districts at the expense of rural districts. Two Albuquerque lawmakers recently have issued statements charging just the opposite.
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, a Democrat, and Rep. James White, a Republican, both from Albuquerque, cite statistics to prove their point. The Lea County arguments to the contrary are not yet available. It doesn't seem both can be correct.
If the size of districts is within five percent of the norm, they meet the rule. Ortiz y Pino's argument is that 10 years ago rural districts were allowed to be on the low side of the norm in order for them to lose as few districts as possible.
That means that the Albuquerque area's fast growing districts began on the high side of the norm and in 10 years became twice as large as some rural districts. A judge is going to have to decide whether fast growing districts should start out above or below the ideal size.
The judge also will look at the shape of districts, which should be as compact as possible. Gerrymandering, in order to include desired precincts, is frowned upon.
Laws also prohibit diluting minority voting strength. That is an important consideration in New Mexico and is likely to appear in some suits. Some Indian tribes complicate that matter, however, by wanting to have representation in as many districts as possible.
The most controversial factor in this decade's redistricting has been political fairness. Republicans complain that Democrats used their majorities in both houses to create too many districts that either are safe Democratic or safe Republican.
Since most of the contests below the gubernatorial line on the ballot are traditionally won by Democrats, Republicans contend that there aren't enough marginal districts to give them a chance at winning a majority of legislative seats.
Normally legislators want a district they easily can win. But it can get too easy. By packing as many Republicans as possible into a district, the chance of having toss-up districts decreases. But there is no law against politically motivated redistricting. If there were, Texas Democratic senators wouldn't have spent the summer of 2003 in New Mexico attempting to prevent losing many congressional seats.
There wasn't much need for the recent million dollar special session. Legislators and the governor likely knew it would end up in court. Democrats may have wanted to pass something advantageous hoping the court would use it as a starting point.
Ten years ago, the Judge Frank Allen gave mixed signals when he used legislative redistricting bills as a template but refused to do so with congressional redistricting.
We must find a better method of redistricting.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

9-30 Dems can't criticize gov on job creation

93011 JOBS

SANTA FE – Ever since Gov. Susana Martinez presented her initiatives to the Legislature last January, Democrats have accused her of concentrating on wedge issues instead of job creation.
Gov. Martinez countered that insisting on no new taxes and reduction of regulations on businesses was the best jobs program possible. Democrats disagreed and argued that more immediate solutions were necessary.
Democrats picked up some extra ammunition as the Legislature adjourned in March. A group of Republican senators, upset that some of the governor's priorities were not scheduled for debate, staged a filibuster that caused a big capital outlay bill to die upon adjournment.
An omnibus bill, funding public works projects throughout the state is usually always the final item heard on the floor of the Senate before adjournment. The strategy is to preclude senators from last-minute efforts to add projects in their districts.
Martinez had no visible connection to the death of the capital outlay bill but it could be argued that she was more interested in issues other than jobs.
When the special session rolled around in September, that capital outlay bill was a major priority of the governor. The state's business and labor communities got together to support it. Capital outlay bills are popular because they don't require taxpayer money. They are funded by taxes on the minerals that are mined or pumped out of our state land.
Capital outlay bills are especially popular these days since they fund infrastructure projects at a time when our state and nation is becoming aware of our decaying infrastructure.
So it came as a big surprise when the Senate Finance Committee pared the capital outlay bill from $213 million to $86 million. Committee chairman John Arthur Smith, of Deming, took the lead in arguing that in a time of such economic uncertainty, we should hold some money back in case there is less income to the fund or in case interest rates on severance tax bonds increase.
It was assumed that more moderate Democrats, along with Republican supporters of Gov. Martinez, could push the appropriation back up to its original level. But it didn't happen. Republicans were not united behind the governor's proposal.
Any hopes of House members rallying in support of a higher figure were dashed when the Senate passed the bill at its lower amount and then adjourned at 1 a.m. last Saturday morning, leaving the House with no choice other than to accept the Senate's figure or go home empty handed again.
In fact, the zero option almost was the case. Several Republican House members made numerous attempts to adjourn the session without passing any further measures. Eventually the $86 million bill was passed 68-1.
Special sessions differ from regular sessions in that they are authorized by law to last as long as 30 days but never do. Therefore, there are no deadlines for adjournment. That is why the Senate could pull a fast one on the House.
So why couldn't full funding of the capital outlay bill get through the Legislature? Lawmakers haven't said much about their reasons but several possibilities exist. Some obviously agreed with Sen. Smith. Others, possibly even including a few Republicans, may not have wanted to give Gov. Martinez a big victory. Let her claim a partial victory but that's it.
Remember what the capital outlay bill normally is called. This is the pork bill, sometimes called the Christmas Tree Bill. It has a little in it for everyone. Legislators like to pass those just before elections so they can go home and brag about bringing home the bacon.
The items in the $86 million mainly were of statewide interest and, therefore, more important to the governor. Years ago, an agreement was made to divide the pork equally between the governor and each house of the Legislature. This was the governor's third. And if she wants her piece of the pie now, we'll give it to her.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

9-28 Plenty of blame to go around

WED, 9-28-11

SANTA FE � New Mexico�s special legislative session on redistricting has adjourned. Everyone is blaming everyone else for not getting much done. They all are correct. Everyone bears some blame.
Democrats control both houses of the legislature so they could pass about anything they wanted. But they knew that Gov. Susana Martinez would veto it. So why go to the trouble of passing something they know she will shoot down?
It now will be up to the state Supreme Court to draw the lines for legislative and congressional redistricting. They know from experience that those lawsuits will cost millions. Some estimates run as high as $9 million.
Privately, Democrats likely figured the best strategy would be to get something before the court that is as favorable to them as possible. Let the court start from there. Everyone likes to talk about saving taxpayer money but it may be that none of the parties to this dispute had any intention to keep redistricting out of court.
All legislators who plan to run again for office want to make their district as winnable as possible. Usually the majority party is willing to allow minority party members to protect their seats. There are exceptions, such as eight years ago when Texas Republicans took over their legislature and decided to redistrict their congressional delegation that had been redistricted two years earlier.
That is when Albuquerque had a visit from Texas Democratic senators for several weeks. Numerous Texas Democratic members of Congress lost their seats over that redistricting.
When an area of the state falls behind in growth, such as frequently happens on New Mexico�s Eastside, someone has to go. That sometimes becomes a personality contest, in which the district of the least popular lawmaker reappears in a fast growing part of the state.
This year, Republicans knew they would see some of their districts squeezed out of some slow growing areas. They hitched their wagon to an argument that Democrats ought to be fair in designing districts that would give them a chance to win in future years. But there is no law requiring political balance in a district.
Republicans knew the governor had their back. If they didn�t get everything they wanted in the Legislature, she would be there with her veto pen. That allowed them to be much more demanding that if they didn�t have a governor in their corner.
The Senate pulled a fast one on the House, going into the wee hours Saturday morning to complete its business and then adjourning. That left the House with no ability to negotiate any changes in Senate bills.
That led to what may be another first in state history � a redistricting session that doesn�t produce a U.S. House redistricting bill. The court will not even have a place to start on that one.
Gov. Martinez was no help with redistricting. In fact, she may have been a hindrance, calling in legislators to lobby them on her issues during the session. She said she worked hard during the session but none of it was directed at facilitating agreement on redistricting.
The Legislature passed redistricting bills for the Public Regulation Commission and the Public Education Commission. Will the governor sign them? She says she hasn�t reviewed them yet.
It appears that redistricting will be a political topic in next year�s campaigns. Martinez often has said that voters should be given a choice of candidates in their legislative districts rather than to have legislators choosing their voters in a redistricting session. It speaks to creating politically balanced legislative districts rather than safe districts.
Three of the 11 items the governor presented to the Legislature during this special session were passed. In-state preferences for state contracts were tightened to cut down on companies opening an office in the state just to bid on a contract.
A food stamp supplement was passed to take advantage of federal money. And $86.5 million was appropriated for capital outlay projects.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

9-26 State layoffs no longer a surprise

MON, 9-26-11

SANTA FE � It was another big surprise from the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez. A second round of state employee layoffs eliminated 27 jobs from the Tourism Department and Expo New Mexico, which runs the State Fair. The first round layoffs were in June when 44 employees were terminated, mainly at the Public Education Department.
The two rounds of layoffs were a surprise because Martinez, during her gubernatorial campaign last fall, repeatedly said she didn�t plan any furloughs or layoffs for the following year.
Gov. Bill Richardson had imposed several furlough days for all employees the previous year. On furlough days, employees do not report to work and are not paid.
Richardson also imposed a hiring freeze, beginning in the fall of 2008, which reduced several thousand state employees over the next two years and increased the workload on many employees.
The actions lowered Richardson�s popularity with state workers, who already were upset about his hiring of large numbers of political appointees who often were not qualified for their jobs. And workers were mad about Richardson�s veto of a bill doing away with double dippers, who retired and then went back to work drawing salary plus retirement.
As election time neared, many state employees were heard to say they would vote for Martinez because they were tired of Richardson�s policies and fearful that Democratic candidate Diane Denish would continue them. There even were rumors that Denish would require employees to work on their unpaid furlough days.
When newly elected Gov. Martinez submitted her budget proposal to the Legislature last January, it contained no provisions for furloughs or layoffs. Employees drew a sigh of relief and figured they had a governor they had an understanding governor.
So the layoffs came as a surprise � actually in more ways than one. Terminated employees were given no advance notice. They were told to have their offices cleaned out by the end of the day. Such action is not unheard of in personnel practices but it surely can mess up a person�s day.
Another surprise was that the majority of the layoffs were in the education and tourism departments � two areas about which New Mexicans feel strongly. The cuts were not system wide as were Gov. Richardson�s furloughs. Some of the biggest departments have not had a single layoff. Why would public schools and tourism get the first cuts?
One similarity between the two departments is that both are headed by young cabinet secretaries with big ideas. Hanna Skandera, at the Public Education Department, came to the state anxious to employ successful methods she helped develop in other states. Monique Jacobson, at the Tourism Department, came to the state eager to use promotional methods used in private industry.
One wouldn�t expect either of them to quickly dump a large portion of her staff. But then, maybe they felt some of the current staff was incompatible with the new ideas. That�s not what they said. They pled poverty. Maybe it is easier to fire people based on lack of funding. State employee unions have said they aren�t sure the terminations meet the rules.
The unions suggest just as much money will be spent on temporary employees and contract employees as was spent on longtime state workers. Skandera says her department�s big loss of funding stems from Gov. Martinez�s desire to cut down on school administration. Jacobson says the Legislature cut back her advertising budget severely.
Both Skandera and Jacobson have been criticized for not putting much effort into fighting the cuts. It also should be noted that Jacobson found $650,000 in the budget she inherited to fund the �Catch the Kid� contest. My guess is that the $10,000 prize will be awarded before you read this.
The bottom line is that layoffs no longer should be a surprise. They have happened in two departments where many might have least expected it. And government restructuring may claim many more.
I'll be at UNM homecoming activities through Sunday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9-23 Can't we just all get along?

FRI, 9-23-11

SANTA FE � As we predicted two days ago, the pace of this special legislative session on redistricting finally has picked up.
Both chambers have developed plans for redistricting New Mexico�s three-member congressional delegation, the state House and Senate, the Public Regulation Commission and the Public Education Commission.
The problem is that the Senate hasn�t developed much legislation that is likely to get through the House and none of the redistricting measures stand much chance of getting past Gov. Susana Martinez�s veto pen.
In the Senate, Democrats, with a 27-15 advantage, are moving plans through the system that never will get through the more evenly divided House, where Democrats hold a scant 36-33 margin.
That margin is even closer than it appears because Democrats lost their 37th vote last January when Rep. Andy Nunez, of Dona Ana County, bolted the party and became independent. Nunez nearly always has voted with Republicans ever since, thereby giving Democrats only a 36-34 advantage.
The result has been that anytime one of the 36 Democrats wants to gain some leverage, he or she will vote with Republicans, thus creating a tie that stalls legislation until that Democrat is satisfied.
That is exactly what Democrat Sandra Jeff, of Crownpoint, did last Tuesday to the House redistricting plan. As of this writing, on Wednesday evening, the bill is stalled until Rep. Jeff can be appeased. That still may not free the Democrats� bill because any other of the 36 Democrats could decide to copy Rep. Jeff�s example and threaten to vote with Republicans.
Any bill that House Democrats pass will sail through the Senate but that doesn�t help because it stands to reason that Gov. Martinez will veto anything that Republican lawmakers do not like. The only answer to this stalemate is for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground.
A two-thirds majority of each house can override a veto but that isn�t going to happen in the House so both sides might as well get together now. If the Legislature remains in session three days after the governor gets a piece of legislation, she has only three days in which to act on the measure rather than 20 days.

But that matters little either � another reason for getting together now. The three weeks for which the Legislature appropriated funding ends this coming Tuesday noon. Lawmakers usually have some extra money stashed away for emergencies but probably not enough to extend the session another week or 10 days, which would reach the maximum 30 days which special sessions can last.
Passing another feed bill to fund an extended session is a possibility, although it has never been done. That would give an advantage to the governor since she could veto the appropriation. The only remaining options would be to reach bipartisan agreement or for lawmakers to call themselves into extraordinary session, which requires more than a majority, and therefore, requires bipartisan agreement.
Here is the reality. Democratic-leaning areas of the state are growing faster than Republican-leaning areas. Democrats blew it in the 2010 elections, resulting in a Republican governor and close to an even match in the House. Both realities demand some give and take.
If common ground cannot be found, the state Supreme Court will craft a plan that attempts to treat both sides fairly. Attorney fees will cost the state money it can ill afford. Logic calls for working out disagreements now but the situation doesn�t appear to be ruled by logic.
No law or court decision exists that requires political districts be as evenly-matched as possible. That is what Republicans are seeking. Democrats are trying to make evenly-matched districts slightly more Democratic by switching in Democratic precincts and switching Republican precincts into districts that already are Republican.
That trend can be seen in the redistricting plans for our three House seats. Republicans are being switched out of the evenly-matched District 1, in the Albuquerque area into the southern District 2 and Democrats are being switched in from northern District 3.

Monday, September 19, 2011

9-21 Session should be over

WED, 9-21-11

SANTA FE – As we enter the third week of New Mexico's special session on redistricting, we begin to see some signs of life. Some of the easier bills are popping out into public view.
The easiest bill is the one redistricting the elected Public Education Commission. The PEC is so inconsequential, it hardly exists. Its predecessor, the elective State Board of Education was powerful, indeed, making all the important decisions about education.
But in 2003, newly-elected Gov. Bill Richardson convinced New Mexico voters that in order for him to make the bold changes that education needed, he must have the power to accomplish it.
That fall, voters gave him the power on a bipartisan vote. An advisory elective Public Education Commission was created in order to make voters happy that they still had something to vote on – even though they never had been able to name a single member of the formally powerful board.
As evidence of the new education board's inconsequential nature, often no one ran for some of the positions on the board. Sometimes positions would be filled by last-minute write-in candidates.
A few years later, the board was given the authority to approve or disapprove charter schools. Now, at least, the board has an official duty. One wouldn't think that would be enough for map makers to make enough changes to carve two incumbents into the same district.
But it happened. The oversight now having been corrected appears to be in sufficiently good shape to move along to the governor for her signature.
But that may be the only bill to make it through the system without ending up in court. The Public Regulation Commission redistricting measure, which also survived without court attention 10 years ago, now has Democrats and Republicans battling over how to make the five districts lean either Republican or Democratic.
So we can add some more to the $3.5 million, plus inflation, that appealing this year's redistricting plans will cost taxpayers this year.
It is such a silly exercise. Lawmakers know the courts are not going to make any more changes than they must in order to draw the new districts. Lawmakers certainly are capable of drawing those same lines and avoiding what I'm guessing to be $5 million in legal fees for a judge to draw those lines.
There is no constitutional or court-ruled standard for districts to be politically balanced. The most important provision is that districts be as equally balanced in terms of population as possible. That's the one person-one vote rule.
The other important factor is not to dilute the voting strength of minorities. One other factor that redistricting is supposed to take into account is Most communities prefer not to be split between two districts. Also two similar communities in close proximity usually don't like to be split.
One exception is the state's Indian tribes and pueblos. In most cases they like to be in different districts. Evidentally they feel they have influence over more members of a public body that way.
Lawmakers have only until next Tuesday, September 27, to finish their work. They projected to be through by now. But unless they went into overdrive yesterday, they are nowhere near through.
The pace must really pick up in the next six days. Legislative leaders plan to get all redistricting bills to the Gov. Susana Martinez by at least three days before the end of the session so she will have to act on them by the end of the session.
That does not seem to give time to reach agreements among Democrats, Republicans and the governor in order to avoid disagreements that will end all these redistricting bills in court
The session can be extended to 30 days. But will lawmakers be willing to do it? And will the governor be willing to sign it?


Hope you get this OK. I'm working on a new computer

Thursday, September 15, 2011

9-19 Time's a-wastin'

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Time's a-wastin'. Tomorrow is the end of the second week of the New Mexico Legislature's special session on redistricting. And not much has happened.
The first encouraging sign emerged the middle of last week when 13 of 15 Republican senators signed a bill redistricting the Senate so that no returning Republican senator gets hurt.
That feat was accomplished soon after Sen. Kent Cravens, an Albuquerque Republican, announced that he will be leaving the Senate to become director of governmental affairs for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
Senate Democrats also have an Albuquerque member, Sen. Eric Griego, who has announced his intent to leave the Senate to run for Congress. With those two advantages, Senate Democrats and Republicans might be able to get together on an agreeable redistricting plan.
It's about time. The general timetable reportedly in legislative minds calls for redistricting to be decided in about two weeks, followed by several days of discussion about Gov. Susana Martinez's 11 agenda items.
Sufficient money has been appropriated for a three week session ending September 27. By that time, the House, Senate, Democrats, Republicans and the governor need to agree on redistricting of the U.S. House, state House and Senate, Public Regulation Commission and state Board of Education districts.
Mere passage of redistricting legislation does not accomplish the task. Unless bipartisan agreement can be reached, including the governor, the court is going to end up drawing the new districts at a cost to the state of about $5 million in attorney fees.
It isn't important to fret about this session costing $50,000 a day. That is one-percent of my estimated cost to taxpayers of legal fees if everything goes to court.
All parties might as well agree now because if it goes to court, the baby will be split resulting in a least-change compromise. So let's make those compromises now -- even if it takes a few days longer. If it takes the entire 30 days, that is all right too.
Nothing on Gov. Martinez's agenda is much of an emergency. The capital outlay work would be good to get started soon. It will create more jobs and the money will come out of severance tax income rather than from the state's general fund.
It would be a real feather in everyone's cap if agreements can be reached. There will be some members leaving the House also, which may help the combining of districts there.
Another consideration is what New Mexico's population pattern will look like 10 years from now. Albuquerque's West Side is projected to continue its rapid growth so it shouldn't be shortchanged now.
Dona Ana County's Hispanic population is expected to grow enough that the 2nd Congressional District area of dominance could shift from the East Side in a decade.
One strategy being considered by Democrats this year is to make the southern congressional district even more Republican so the 1st Congressional District in the Albuquerque area can be made easier for a Democrat to continue winning.
Southern Democrats aren't happy with the possibility of being thrown under the bus this time because they think voting patterns will begin shifting in their favor before the end of this decade.
So where is state government's head right now? Is there a desire reach accord and save state taxpayers the money for a court solution to redistricting? Or will we see an effort to load up for the 2012 election campaigns?
Gov. Martinez and House Republicans appear to be aiming toward a GOP takeover of the House in next year's elections while Senate Republicans and Democrats show signs of wanting to make everything work.
For the past decade, and longer, the dynamics have been just the opposite. The House got its work done in a businesslike manner and the Senate was always in uproar. It's likely due to a change in personalities.
MON, 9-19-11

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


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9-16 Session dull so let's look elsewhere

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The first week of this decade's special legislative session on redistricting has been anything but exciting.
The only action has been complaints from Democratic leaders that Gov. Susana Martinez has loaded other items onto the agenda, something no other governor has done.
And now we have complaints from Republican lawmakers that nothing is happening so they should be considering items the governor added to the agenda.
Interest about that argument has its limits so let's move on to looking at some truly momentous events that occurred on this date in past years.
On September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo delivered his Grito to the people of Delores, Mexico, calling on them to unite in overthrowing the Spanish government. What followed was a bloody 11-year war of independence.
The little town of Delores still uses the letters cdr, Corazon del Revolution, in its address. Why doesn't Mexico celebrate its victory in 1821 instead of the beginning of the revolution? We do the same with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Father Hidalgo was inspired by the American and French revolutions. So were most of the Latin American countries, many of which are celebrating their bicentennials soon.
On September 17, 1841, New Mexico Gov. Manuel Armijo and his troops captured the advance party leading a Texas invasion. The Texans were surprised that the New Mexicans didn't welcome them as liberators and benefactors. Quite the opposite, they were all marched barefooted to Mexico City.
On September 16, 1940, our nation initiated its first peacetime draft when the Selective Service Act took effect. Political maneuvering retarded effective implementation of the law for over a year.
To fill in the gap, many national guard units across the nation were federalized and sent to trouble spots, especially in the Philippines. That meant some 1800 New Mexicans found themselves in the Bataan Death March.
It was a misfortune for New Mexico but there is no telling what would have happened to our nation's war plan if a bunch of raw recruits had been defending Luzon. New Mexico's more mature country boys knew every trick to holding off the Japanese until Australia could be fortified.
On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. The Germans had done the same two weeks earlier. The two pushed each other back and forth until the Soviets took over in 1945. The last Russian soldier finally left Poland on September 17, 1993.
Back in our own country, the United States Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. Few Americans know that since we don't get a three-day weekend.
The situation bothered Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., so much that in 2004, he attached a rider to an appropriation bill requiring any education institution receiving federal money to teach about the Constitution on September 17.
The rules are flexible as to how the instruction will occur but the law is doing enough good that more students know about Constitution Day than do adults. Previously it had been called Citizenship Day. No one remembered that either.
Some schools have an assembly and invite a public official to speak. State Attorney General Gary King frequently is a speaker. King has been promoting Constitution Day since he assumed office in 2007.
U.S. history normally is taught in fifth grade and again in high school. Fifth graders are at a popular age for patriotic activities. In many schools they will present the program for school assemblies.
At some point textbook companies quit putting the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in the back of U.S. history books. In many communities, Lions Clubs distribute pocket-size booklets containing the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.
At the state capitol yearly one can often find a class of fifth graders running around with those booklets asking legislators questions about the Constitution. It has forced some lawmakers to brush up on their history.
FRI, 9-16-11

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


Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-14 Legislative plan becoming evident

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The master plan for this special session on redistricting seems to be falling into place. Although surprises always are possible in the give and take between the governor and lawmakers who aren't particularly fond of each other.
Gov. Susana Martinez says the session can easily be over in two weeks. The Legislature appropriated enough money for three weeks. The maximum length allowed by law is 30 days but no one would benefit by it going that long.
The likely scenario is for lawmakers to wrap up redistricting in about two weeks and then turn their attention to the governor's agenda for several days.
By remaining in session, Gov. Martinez will have to act on the redistricting bills within three days. That will give lawmakers an opportunity to override any vetoes. It also allows for all sorts of horse trading.
The governor will be very busy during those days analyzing the redistricting bills plus advocating for her own package of an expected 11 bills.
Of course, Gov. Martinez said before the session that she was planning to work hard and intimating that most lawmakers weren't anxious to work. Some legislative leaders, during last winter's regular session charged that Martinez hadn't adequately prepared for the session.
But she did prepare for this session. Rep. Paul Bandy, R- San Juan, has introduced a 72-page bill to merge the Tourism and Cultural Affairs departments. Reportedly two more governmental restructuring bills will be introduced soon.
A year ago, government reorganization was a hot topic. A large committee of legislators and others met often during the interim and presented a major report to the 2011 but little was done with the report.
In Gov. Martinez's defense, the job of restructuring government takes a great amount of time and thought, which a new governor doesn't have. She did the one thing she could and it actually was the most important step. She told her top appointees restructure was possible and to be prepared to cooperate.
This didn't happen during the last year of the Bill Richardson administration. Former Gov. Richardson was amenable to reorganization but his appointees had developed loyalties to the present organization structure and fervently fought any change.
So reorganization has a chance under Gov. Martinez. It just won't happen during this session. It requires much more analysis and debate.
Some items on the governor's agenda lawmakers really want to see. They intended to pass the capital outlay bill in the regular session but it got caught up in a political spat involving other legislation.
Bills strengthening preference for in-state bidders and clarifying tax credits for companies paying high wages should get through easily.
That could be about it. Both sides want to shore up the unemployment fund. The governor wants to take the money out of reserves. Lawmakers voted to hike employer premiums during the regular session. The courts said to agree on something. Compromise could be an answer but that's a bad word.
Both sides know the state needs to increase highway maintenance funding. Gov. Martinez has asked for $41 million, which is the amount that was transferred for the Rail Runner. That complicates the matter.
The governor and a majority of the Legislature want fireworks restrictions but that can be handled just as well in January so Democrat leaders may postpone.
That leaves the tough stuff. Gov. Martinez wants to repeal the law granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens. The Senate proposed a compromise during the regular session, which it says meets all her objections. House Speaker Ben Lujan has introduced that Senate proposal in the House. Martinez says she'll veto.
The court has said to figure out the third-grade social promotion. As the battle continues, more good ideas surface. Everyone wants better reading. This seems to be the Legislature taking another slap at Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. She deserves a chance.
WED, 9-14-11

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


Thursday, September 08, 2011

9-12 Legislature off to contentious start

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The New Mexico Legislature is off to its expected contentious start. The starter's gun is fired by the governor with a proclamation setting the time and date of the session and the subjects to be covered.
Normally proclamations are very official sounding but Gov. Susana Martinez's version seemed argumentative, more like a campaign speech. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, of Roswell, called the proclamation "political rhetoric and antagonistic."
Jennings charged in an opening day floor speech that the governor unfairly portrayed lawmakers as tax-raisers who increase burdens on small businesses.
Those weren't the only shots fired back and forth. In a Sunday Op-Ed piece in the Albuquerque Journal, Gov. Martinez said she was willing to work during the session but suggested that most legislators would have little to do so they should get busy with her agenda.
Jennings shot back that Martinez's comments were absurd. He noted that he has been through four redistricting sessions and she has been through none. "What does she know," he asked?
Sen. Jennings is not a liberal Democrat, by any means. He led an insurgency of all Senate Republicans and a few Democrats to overturn the Senate Democratic caucus' selection of Sen. Carlos Cisneros, of Taos, for Senate president pro tem.
Jennings was former Gov. Bill Richardson's bitter enemy for eight years. It was expected that he and Gov. Martinez would see eye to eye on many matters. But they haven't gotten off to a good start.
One of Martinez's problems seems to be a reluctance to talk with Democratic leaders. Or maybe it is her political handlers who don't want her making deals with Democrats. They likely would rather lose now and use the loses to help win more legislative seats next year.
Martinez often is compared former Gov. Gary Johnson, who also was a Republican faced with a Democratic legislature. But lawmakers appreciated Johnson's accessibility. They didn't agree on much. But they didn't fight. Johnson kept his comments positive just as he kept his campaign commercials positive.
Johnson didn't get much legislation passed but he didn't have much legislation he wanted to pass. He was a proponent of limited government and was able to accomplish that through numerous vetoes.
Blogger Joe Monahan is suggesting that Martinez may be more like former Gov. Toney Anaya, a Democrat faced with a Republican controlled legislature. Anaya couldn't get anything passed and was in a constant war with lawmakers.
Martinez may find herself in the same situation. She has initiatives she wants to pass but she didn't get them in the regular session and isn't on track to get anything passed in this session except for some cleanup legislation left over from last spring.
Catholic bishops have been asking Gov. Martinez to compromise on banning driver's licenses for illegal aliens. During the regular session, the Senate passed legislation strengthening penalties for illegally obtaining drivers licenses.
But Martinez wants to go all or nothing rather than getting what she can now and coming back to do more later. Last Wednesday evening we heard Republican presidential candidates laud former President Ronald Reagan's leadership.
Reagan was a very pragmatic president, however. He was famous for the art of the deal. Today compromise has become a bad word. Bismarck, or whomever said "Politics is the art of compromise," would be in for some major arguments today.
Gary Johnson just can't seem to catch a break. He wasn't invited to the first big presidential debate, which was held in New Hampshire earlier this summer because he was only polling one percent. He was told he needed to be at two percent in the CNN poll to be invited.
Now Johnson is polling two percent with CNN and he still didn't get invited to last Wednesday's big debate. Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum, who only polled one percent, were invited.
Johnson says he'll stick to New Hampshire and try to make his mark there.
MON, 9-12-11

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


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

9-9 Achieve redistricting agreement and save $5 million

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What is most important about the current legislative special session on redistricting?
Is it getting as much of Gov. Susana Martinez's add-on agenda enacted? Numerous opinion pieces have been written about the importance of various of the items she wants lawmakers to consider.
Is it keeping the session as short as possible? Much has been written about the $50,000 a day cost of the session. If the session is wrapped up in 10 days, as many hope, it will cost a half-million dollars. If it lasts the maximum allowable 30 days, it will cost a whopping $1.5 million.
That's a lot of taxpayer money, isn't it? But the figure pales in comparison to the cost of not getting the redistricting job agreed to by the Legislature and governor.
That's what happened 10 years ago -- and Gov. Gary Johnson didn't add any extra items to the agenda. The legal costs of straightening out the mess that time came to $3.5 million.
A decade of inflation would take that figure to $5 million easily. A handful of lawyers are a heck of a lot more expensive than 112 legislators and all their employees.
So it appears that what should be most important about this redistricting session is to reach agreement on how to redistrict the state House and Senate, New Mexico's U.S. House delegation and the state Public Regulation Commission.
And what are the chances of doing that? Not very good. Gov. Martinez's only interest is in passing nine extraneous items of importance to her. To accomplish that, she is diverting the attention of legislators from what should be their only task.
The result is hostility from the majority leadership of the Legislature. The governor says she is talking with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to push her agenda. But talking doesn't mean agreement.
There doesn't appear to be agreement from the majority leadership of either legislative chamber. If there were, the nine items could be passed quickly and might set a tone for agreement on redistricting issues.
But who is this bipartisan group the governor is talking with? It wouldn't be surprising to learn that the group consists of Republican leaders and some Democrats who might cross party lines to pass some of her issues. That is going to make reaching agreement on redistricting even more difficult.
So what is the likely outcome? One scenario has the Democratic leadership of both houses quickly shuffling the governor's controversial items off to oblivion.
This can be done in many ways. The most common method is to conduct a hearing on unwanted bills and then temporarily table them for further consideration. The temporarily eventually becomes permanent.
A little more controversial is to never hear some of the bills. Even more controversial is to place them on the House speaker's table or the Senate president's table as soon as they are introduced.
Gone are the days of flamboyant bill killings. Legislative rules call for a bill passed by the Legislature to be the original version, not a copy.
In the 1960s, House Education Committee chairman Fred Foster locked a bill in his bottom desk drawer and said it would not come out until the session ended.
In the 1970s, colorful Sen. Tom Benavidez got hold of the original version of a bill he didn't like and headed to Juarez with it.
Another legislative rule states that when a governor puts a subject on the agenda for a legislature to consider, lawmakers can introduce their own bills on that subject. Both houses have a rules committee that decides whether each bill introduced is appropriately on subject.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez has suggested that Gov. Martinez's nine bills could turn into 90 bills, or 900 bills.
Since New Mexico never has had a governor add extra items to a redistricting session, predicting its outcome is difficult. My guess is that several lawyers are going to greatly improve their financial health -- at taxpayer expense.
FRI, 9-09-11

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


Saturday, September 03, 2011

9-7 Special Session and U.S. Senate race compete for attention

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The Labor Day weekend usually is the kick off for the following year's major political campaigns. This year may be a little different however.
The state legislature's special session on redistricting undoubtedly will grab many of the headlines for a few weeks. That likely means no major announcements by the candidates but it won't stop behind-the-scenes jockeying.
The wide open U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman picked up four major candidates very quickly last spring but has been rather quiet since then.
Here is where that contest stands at this point. The Democratic primary features a struggle between 1st Congressional District Rep. Martin Heinrich and state Auditor Hector Balderas. Andres Valdes, an Albuquerque activist, also has announced.
On the Republican side of the ballot are former 1st Congressional District Rep. Heather Wilson and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. Two other candidates, Las Cruces businessman Greg Sowards and William English of Alamogordo, also are in the race.
These lineups promise exciting primary elections on both sides followed by a hard fought general election battle. This is as it should be for an important U.S. Senate seat that traditionally only comes open every few decades in New Mexico.
Lt. Gov. Sanchez will be very busy the next few weeks presiding over the state Senate during the redistricting session that also is being asked to consider close to a dozen additional items.
Most of the controversy that is expected in the session is likely to occur in the Senate. Sanchez will have his hands full trying to hold things together. He may get his name in the paper a lot but it may not be the sort of news that will help his campaign.
Don't be surprised to see senators rig some votes so that Sanchez will have to break ties on controversial issues. They did it to former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.
During Sanchez's two-year state House term early last decade, his voting record was very moderate but he has had the banner of conservatism wrapped around him for this race.
Sanchez appeared a little uneasy in his new clothes at first but with polls showing 60 percent of New Mexico Republican voters embracing the tea party, he can win the primary with just that element on his side.
Early Republican frontrunner Heather Wilson calls herself a conservative but has trouble making voters believe it. The truth is that winning a general election in the Albuquerque area requires a fairly moderate voting record. But it doesn't win GOP primary elections.
So Wilson is bypassing a fight with Sanchez at this time by firing at Democrat frontrunner Martin Heinrich. If she can get Republican voters thinking she is the best candidate to beat Heinrich, maybe she can convince primary election voters to give her a shot in the general election.
Heinrich is taking the bait and firing back at Wilson for causing a national fiscal crisis by supporting two wars and tax breaks for the wealthy. Those charges are likely to help Wilson in her primary election so her strategy appears to be working.
Hector Balderas recently has put out the news that the website has tabbed him as possibly the best underdog candidate for the U.S. Senate anywhere in the nation.
That's pretty heady stuff. Balderas can claim victory in two statewide primaries and two general elections for state auditor. Lt. Gov. Sanchez can claim victory in a gubernatorial primary and a lieutenant gubernatorial primary, plus victory as a running mate with Gov. Susana Martinez.
These statewide victories for Balderas and Sanchez are important because it means they both have the beginnings of an organization in every county.
And don't forget Lt. Gov. Sanchez's official tour of all 33 counties assigned by Gov.-elect Martinez before either one of them even took office. The current frontrunners, Wilson and Heinrich, never have won a statewide race.
WED, 9-7-11

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


Thursday, September 01, 2011

9-5 Redistricting causes some political deaths

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Get ready for a slam-bang legislative session beginning tomorrow. Redistricting sessions are especially brutal. At least one political death always occurs.
As usual, the Albuquerque metropolitan area is set to devour a few more legislative seats from the rest of the state. The size of New Mexico's legislature is set by law. So high growth in one region means seats will be lost in areas of slower growth.
But isn't there a way that districts can be redrawn so that no legislator loses a seat? Yes, there is, but the Legislature's redistricting consultant, Brian Sanderoff, says the map would be good only for comic relief.
Picture a map with many districts having tentacles reaching into the Albuquerque area from all over the state in order to grab enough population to remain in existence. It not only would be a comical map, it would violate federal guidelines and court decisions designed to prevent gerrymandering.
Sanderoff has presented numerous possible maps to a redistricting committee, which has been traveling the state this summer conducting public hearings.
Various versions of those plans are expected to be introduced during the upcoming special session. All lawmakers will be keeping their eyes on all plans to see which treats them most favorably.
They may develop amendments to those plans that will treat them better. In addition, lawmakers will be developing plans to redistrict New Mexico's three congressional seats and the state Public Regulation Commission.
And they will be lobbied by present members of those bodies and by challengers for those offices. Gov. Susana Martinez says only a few lawmakers will be busy handling redistricting so they will be free to consider a slew of items she would like to add to their special session agenda.
Martinez never has seen a redistricting session in progress so she does not comprehend how encompassed lawmakers become in the redistricting process.
Tension between governors and legislators always exists before and during special sessions, with lawmakers insisting that the governor is adding too many items.
That tension also exists during 30-day regular sessions such as we will have next January and February. That session is limited to budgetary items plus topics introduced by the governor.
Lawmakers usually seem to get most of the governors' extra items considered during 30-day sessions so Martinez is arguing that they can get her extra items considered during a redistricting session.
But that may not be correct. The Legislative Council Service reports that previous redistricting sessions never have considered extra items.
Gov. Martinez is correct that only a few legislative committees meet during a redistricting session. That requires fewer staff. But if additional items are introduced, additional committees need to meet and additional staff will have to be hired, which will increase the amount spent per day on the session.
Everything could get considered during the session if there were bipartisan agreement on everything going into the session. But that never happens, even on the redistricting questions.
Only once in the history of redistricting sessions have at least some of the results not gone to court, according to the Legislative Council Service. This doesn't appear to be the year when that will change.
The Senate Democratic leadership has expressed antagonism about the governor piling on extra items for the session. For awhile, it was a new item every day.
A few items can be agreed on quickly and they should be. But animosities could escalate to the point that legislative leaders decide they are going to stick to just redistricting issues.
That situation occurred during the first year of Gov. Bill Richardson's administration when he loaded down a special session with too much work, none of which he had discussed with leaders beforehand.
One item lawmakers have the power to add to this session is the impeachment of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. But consistent with their opposition to overloading the agenda, that will wait until later.
MON, 9-05-11

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