Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

3-7 Cattle Drive of the Century

30712 centennial
SANTA FE – What's happening in your community to celebrate New Mexico's centennial? It seems to vary widely. I recently heard from Lea County about some of their monumental events. Down in the Southeast corner of our state, the oil patch often is referred to as "Little Texas." But Lea County's plans are Big New Mexico.
The Biggest event is the Cattle Drive of the Century from the Pitchfork Ranch in Lea County to Carlsbad. It will be composed of 100 head of longhorns, branded with a Zia sun symbol. They will make the 80-mile stretch in three days. Each night will feature a chuck wagon dinner and entertainment from the likes of Michael Murphy and other great performers. Famous cowboys and cowgirls also will join the drive.
The cattle drive will take place May 9-11. Seasoned wranglers will do the hard work but you can ride along too. The fee is $1,800 for the full experience. That covers three chuck wagon meals a day, camping equipment, your campsite set up for you every night, Old West reenactments and an official t-shirt and poster. A limited number of spots are available. Contact Trail Boss Bert Madera at 575-390-2861.
There also are other ways to participate. You can join the group each night for a chuck wagon dinner and campfire entertainment Busses will depart from Hobbs and Carlsbad each night at 5 p.m. Tickets are $75 each.
If you own your own horse, mule or wagon, you can join in for $225 a person. For additional information contact or The cattle drive already is drawing national and international attention. So expect to see a great many cameras around too.
At the End of the Trail, a full day of events will be held in Carlsbad. It will include children's rodeo branding, leather working, wool spinning and more.
The trail drive is sure to be one of the biggest events commemorating the New Mexico Centennial. The Lea County Centennial Committee will transport fourth and fifth graders from around the county to a Viva New Mexico Centennial celebration on April 27 in Hobbs .The Southwest Symphony is sponsoring the celebration which will feature the five main cultural influences on New Mexico.
A recreated Pony Express ride also will be a part of Lea County's centennial celebration. Riders will carry the mail on horseback during a 14-day trek from the Western Heritage Museum in Hobbs to Santa Fe. First Gentleman Chuck Franco will be the expressmaster in Santa Fe who will receive the mail.
Other events will include a New Mexico-Texas Challenge Marathon, a Lovington Street Dance, and an old fashioned melodrama, "Oil's Well That Ends Well." The Center for the Arts in Hobbs is hosting a Centennial Photography Exhibit, which will be followed in July and August by a Boots and Spurs art exhibit.
In October the Llano Estacado Art Association will host a "One Hundred Years of Enchantment" centennial show, featuring new original art from Lea and Eddy County artists. A Festival of Quilts will feature quilts with a centennial theme.
Calvin Smith, chairperson of the cattle drive committee, says still more projects are being planned. The ones we have mentioned are just the ones already underway.
Inside the Capitol would like to hear about other activities going on around the state too. Please let us know about what your community is doing so we can showcase it. Centennials only roll around about once every 100 years. It's a time to celebrate.
The New Mexico Centennial website lists several events occurring in Roswell, Las Cruces, Albuquerque and a few other locations. But there must be more. Let us know about them.

Friday, February 24, 2012


We're headed out for warmer climes with no juniper but many friends and relatives. Return April 1. Will have computer and cell phone: 505-699-9982.
Will miss 3-2 and 3-5 columns.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2-29 Diamond-Tooth Miller a NM Original

22912 Diamond Tooth
SANTA FE – Diamond Tooth Miller wasn't as bad a guy as I thought. To begin this month, we talked about the Occupiers' raucous demonstration at a Santa Fe dinner meeting for conservative lawmakers. That led to some reminiscences about other legislative rowdiness over the years.
The column ended with a faulty remembrance of Diamond Tooth Miller shooting the chief justice of the state Supreme Court in the lobby of La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe. I ended with admitting I couldn't find reference to the event on the Web or in any of my trusty reference books.
I asked for help and I got it. Former Rep. Morgan Nelson, from Roswell, was the first to email me. He served in the state Legislature with Miller in 1949 and 1951. Morgan described him as a man of flexible principles, depending on the money offered him but said he was a pleasant man who never had any problem with the courts.
Next, an email came from Mike Pitel, a retiree from the state Tourism Department and a top-notch historian. He sent me several old newspaper clippings about Diamond Tooth along with the information that I confused Miller with William Rynerson, the district attorney who convicted Billy the Kid.
It was Rynerson who killed Chief Justice John P. Slough in the lobby of the Exchange Hotel, where La Fonda now stands. Rynerson worked for the Santa Fe Ring. He was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.
So if any of Diamond Tooth's relatives are tuned into this column, please accept my apology for almost defaming him. I take it all back.
Diamond Tooth called himself an honest crook. He didn't hide what he was doing. His business cards said, "The best senator money can buy." He said he got into politics because it was the only way to make a living without working. New Mexico legislators never have been paid a salary but he seemed to scrape by anyway.
Miller may have been including his work for three Democratic governors as being politics also. He said he always had a job but never did anything except politics. He said his legislative win was an accident. He put his name on the ballot because no one else was running. He campaigned for Gov. Tom Mabry throughout the state and when he got home, he learned he had won. He represented Torrance County for four years and listed his address as Gran Quivira.
Encouraged by that victory, he ran for secretary of state, and lost. By that time Republican Ed Mechem was governor and his political job prospects were zero. Miller and his wife moved to Hatch for a while in the early 1950s and then to Las Vegas, Nevada.
He quickly became sergeant at arms of the state Senate, a post he held for nearly 20 years. The House and Senate sergeants at arms in New Mexico's legislature work hard but that wasn't the case in Nevada. Miller said he didn't do anything there either.
His diamond tooth, he says, was the result of talking his girlfriend in France into giving a pair of ear rings to him during World War I. He lost one shooting craps and had the other embedded in his left front tooth. Morgan Nelson says it sparkled when he talked.
In another early February column, I listed the discovery of oil in New Mexico as taking place at Hobbs in 1928. Norbert Rempe, of Carlsbad, emailed to note that the first well was in Eddy County in 1924. The well generated a $135 royalty check to the state.
The industry now contributes over $2 billion to state and local governments. The state general fund receives approximately 27 percent of its income from the petroleum industry.
Sorry for the mistake. I took the information from a timeline produced by the state Department of Cultural Affairs for use in classrooms across the state.

2 columns I neglected to send

22012 Redist
SANTA FE – Candidates for the state House of Representatives won't know the shape of their districts for quite a while, it appears. The fate of those districts currently is being reviewed by a retired state district court judge, the state Supreme Court and the federal district court in Albuquerque.
The Democratic-dominated Legislature appealed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's veto of its House redistricting bill to the state Supreme Court. The high court appointed retired District Court Judge James Hall of Santa Fe to hear the appeal.
Judge Hall sided with a plan presented by Gov. Martinez. The Democratic Legislature appealed Hall's decision back to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision and referred the redistricting back to retired Judge Hall with instructions to relax the equal representation requirements enough to keep from splitting communities, give Hispanics more representation in an Eastside county and produce a more politically neutral map.
So now Gov. Martinez has has appealed the state Supreme Court decision to the federal court in Albuquerque and asked it to adopt her plan or create new districts itself. Sound complicated? It is.
A jurisdictional battle could ensue but my guess is that the federal court will wash its hands of the matter and not accept the appeal. It has happened before and may already have happened again by the time you read this.
Meanwhile candidates for House seats are guessing what districts they may end up in and who their voters will be. March filing dates for House candidates may be pushed back and even the House primary election may be rescheduled. That has happened before in some House districts.
Gov. Martinez says the state Supreme Court's decision is laughable because it violates the U.S. constitutional mandate of one person, one vote. A five percent deviation above or below the ideal size district is allowed but districts only meet that standard in the first election held after redistricting.
By two years from now, House districts in rapidly growing areas already will be more than five percent over the ideal size. And by the last election of the 10-year cycle, some House members will be representing more than twice as many people as others. That obviously does not meet the one person, one vote standard.
If equal sized districts truly are the most important consideration in redistricting, the sensible action on the part of Legislatures is to deviate as far below the ideal population number as possible in fast growing areas of the state and deviate as far above the ideal number in slow growing districts.
But that is the opposite of what usually happens. Pity is taken upon the slow growing districts that have to be enlarged geographically. Otherwise, another county is added to a rural district and the legislator has to travel another 100 miles to cover his or her district. The result is that eventually a district has to be completely eliminated from a slow growing area of the state and inserted into a fast growing area.
Redistricting law also speaks to keeping communities of interest together, thereby enabling them to elect a representative of their own. New Mexico's smaller towns usually are kept intact. Occasionally they are split in order to keep them from electing one of their own. Reportedly some pueblos have said they don't mind being split because they can then have two representatives working on their behalf.
Deming, Silver City and Las Vegas are split in the Republican version of House redistricting that the governor is championing. Deming and Silver City have long worked together on legislative matters so this may not be a punishment. Las Vegas is accustomed to being split into east and west so it may not bother them.
But regardless of what Republicans and Democrats say about sacred principles of redistricting, it is all about gaining political advantage. The rest is just for show.
22412 Do Nothing
SANTA FE – Can the recent legislative session be called The Do-Nothing 50th Legislature? Some lawmakers think so. Not many of Gov. Susana Martinez's initiatives survived.
She did a little better than Harry Truman in 1948 when he went on a whistle-stop tour to rail against The Do-Nothing 80th Congress. Truman, his wife Bess and 24-year-old daughter Margaret rode a campaign train throughout the country, stopping at every city, town and village along the way.
I saw him as a 10-year old, in Deming, on a summer morning. His short train, coming from Lordsburg, rolled into the station and he emerged onto a platform on the rear of the train. He delivered a brief speech, with the crowd yelling "Give 'em hell, Harry."
People cheered for Margaret, a professional songstress, to come out and sing. She made an appearance, waved to the crowd and said it was too early in the morning. The real problem was the whistle stops had to be brief.
Truman pulled off a surprise victory that year, running against an obstructionist Congress. Tom Dewey, the GOP presidential candidate, seldom was mentioned.
Gov. Martinez does not have to run this year but she can campaign against Democratic legislators who thwarted her initiatives. Her main problem is the Senate where Democrats hold a 2-1 margin. The House, where Democrats hold the slimmest of margins, passed most of Martinez's priorities but she will go after them too.
I haven't heard anyone refer to this legislature as the 50th but it seems snappy. This is our centennial year and legislatures are two years long with a regular session each year.
Regardless of what Republicans call it, they will run against obstructionist Democrats who want to frustrate the governor's agenda in order to make her look bad. Democrats will counter that they were willing to go over half way but the governor insisted on all or nothing.
We have much the same picture on the national level but in reverse. The difference is that Republicans in Congress admit to what they are doing. When Rush Limbaugh and others on the right began saying the day after the president's inauguration that they want him to fail, Republican members of Congress quickly fell in behind them.
On some issues, Gov. Martinez has been willing to work with Democrats. The state budget has passed both years with little quarrel. If compromise is possible on the most important item of any session, why isn't it possible on other issues?
It may be due to Martinez and Senate budget powerhouse John Arthur Smith, of Deming, working well together. And it may be that budget issues don't grab people's attention like illegal immigrants, voter fraud and illiterate high school graduates do. Martinez believes the majority of voters are on her side on these issues.
Gov. Martinez and lawmakers had little trouble getting together on increased penalties for government corruption and reform of the Public Regulation Commission. Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez wanted to slow down both issues but he didn't have his troops behind him as much as he thought.
Sanchez was willing to approve the transfer of corporate registrations to the secretary of State's office, which handles other business filings. But qualifications of commissioners and creation of an independent Insurance Department, Sanchez thought needed further study.
But in a final-hour show of force, Think New Mexico and other supporters of the constitutional amendment package got other business stopped so that the rest of the package could be put on the November ballot.
Gov. Martinez is sure to use her veto pen on numerous items she didn't want to see passed. Chief among them are local pork projects that she would have preferred to go to statewide projects or to the needs of children.
It is hard to argue except that local pork does help business and create jobs in communities throughout the state.

Monday, February 20, 2012

22712 reading
SANTA FE – What's the secret to teaching kids to read? Many New Mexicans have been seriously pondering that question for well over a year. And even though nothing has passed the legislature, the focus on the problem is beginning to produce some good ideas. But some mysteries remain.
The reason for this focus is the effort by Gov. Susana Martinez and Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera to not allow students to advance beyond the third grade level unless they read proficiently.
The idea seemed rather extreme. The thought of 15-year-old third graders is scary. Guess who is going to be the class bully and the most disruptive student.
Over the past year, that idea has been refined by limiting retentions to two years, beginning remedial work in kindergarten or earlier and allowing parents to override retentions if they have actively participated in remedial work with their child.
Parental responsibility finally is getting the attention it deserves. It long has been the most ignored factor in a child's school success. Problem parents come in two categories. Those who can help a child but won't and those who can't help because they hold more than one job, they are a single parent, they have many children or they can't read English themselves. Even those parents can encourage a child to succeed because it is their only way out of poverty.
New light also has been cast on social promotions. Until Martinez and Skandera started the conversation about social promotions, the education establishment was being blamed for not retaining students until they could read adequately.
Now the realization has come that the problem is parents who override the school districts' recommendations. It also may be that schools largely have given up on retentions because parents almost always disregard the recommendations.
Martinez and Skandera want to take away parental consent and force the retentions. But the school establishment now seems to be fighting the grant of the new power. And the Martinez supporters, who often object to government control, are advocating it in this case.
Retentions will cost money. Additional reading specialists will have to be hired. Every time a student is held back a grade, the state ends up paying for an extra year of schooling for that student. If large numbers of students are held back every year, it becomes an expensive proposition.
Figures as high as 80 percent of third graders, who can't read adequately, are being bandied about. Consider a school district with 100 students in each grade. If 80 third graders remain in third grade the next year, that grade will have 180 students and there will be only 20 fourth graders. Do the math to extend that out to future years and you have quite a mess.
As we said before, early identification and remediation is the answer to reading proficiency. It is expensive but, along with parental involvement, it may be the answer to pulling our state up from its low ranking in student achievement.
We hear figures saying that we are as low as last place in education and that New Mexico's education system is a disaster. A measure was defeated this year to take some money from one of our large permanent funds to pay for increased reading assistance. It was defeated because we must save those funds for a rainy day. If the claims about our education ranking are true, it is raining.
One of the defeated legislative measures was to reduce the amount of money legislators divert from the Severance Tax Permanent Fund for their pork projects and use that to help children read better.
Gov. Martinez has been scolding the Legislature ever since she was elected for preferring pork to pupils. This gives her an additional big load of ammunition.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

New Mexico Treasures Relationships

22212 Hanna
SANTA FE – Why can't Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of the state Public Education Department, get confirmed? Two regular sessions and one special session of the New Mexico Legislature have chosen not to even give her a hearing.
The reasons include the political. Gov. Susana Martinez must get cabinet appointees and certain other high officials confirmed by the state Senate. When the governor and Senate are of different parties, political games sometimes are played. Even when the governor and Senate are of the same party, the Senate Rules Committee often toys with a nominee or two as hostages for bargaining purposes.
Skandera happens to be the most controversial of Martinez's appointees. She wouldn't have been if Harrison "Jack" Schmitt had chosen to go through the confirmation process.
Schmitt was nominated to head our Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department but withdrew after becoming aware that environmentalists were about to make a big deal out of his position, as a geologist, that global warming is due more to natural, rather than human, causes.
The word was that Schmitt would not get the local-hero treatment despite leading the geological exploration of the moon and returning to represent New Mexico in the U.S. Senate from 1976-1982. He was born in Santa Rita and remained in the state after being defeated by Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Schmitt didn't survive reelection but neither did Rick Santorum. And look where he is now.
Skandera, on the other hand, is new to New Mexico and has never taught school. That and bringing in a lot of new ideas has made her road bumpy. She has a slightly different take on her situation, however.
"New Mexico is an unbelievably relational state," Skandera told Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Robert Nott. No, it doesn't have anything to do with nepotism. It means that establishing relationships with those you are trying to influence is more important here than in other states.
If you have always lived in New Mexico, you never may have realized that wanting to know people before we let them influence us is not common in most of the country.
I came to this realization years ago in my first career when I was asked to help a teacher leader, in Lordsburg, who was having great difficulty selling an idea to her superintendent.

When we arrived at his office, I began the conversation by saying I was born there. The superintendent and I shared stories about people we mutually knew. When I got to the point of our visit, it didn't take long to reach agreement.
Afterwards the teacher thanked me but offered that I had wasted valuable time chatting. I replied that I felt we still would be haggling if I hadn't established a relationship first.
The teacher replied that it didn't work that way where she came from.
I've thought about that experience often and haven't changed my style a bit. I'm currently trying to bring an out-of-state documentary film maker together with a New Mexican with valuable information. She won't release it until she can sit down and talk with him personally. He doesn't understand.
Skandera does understand. She says there is a beauty in the New Mexico way. It is a lot slower. And maybe it wastes valuable time. Maybe it is a reason we lag behind in so many important areas. But we are the Land of Manana. We're not trying to hide the fact.
Gov. Martinez is standing behind her secretary-designee. So it appears Skandera still has time to build relationships with lawmakers and educators.
Skandera says not being confirmed doesn't bother her because she has the same powers. She's right, but maybe some deference to the Legislature would help move some of her initiatives.
And maybe a confirmation hearing at this point would not be in her interest. The Rules Committee says it will invite communities from throughout the state to her hearing.
If the vote goes against her, she's out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2-17 Political attention turns to June primaries

21712 races

SANTA FE – Now that the 2012 Legislature has adjourned, lawmakers can turn their attention to their impending contests for reelection. For House members it will be tricky because the shape of their districts still is in doubt.
The House district map, pushed through by a Democratic majority, was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. It was appealed and James Hall, a retired state district judge chose the Republican plan.
That decision was then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which referred it back to the district judge for further work. The Supremes set a February 27 target date for Judge Hall to submit his next attempt.
All 112 legislative seats will be up for grabs this year, with a primary the first Tuesday in June and the general election the first Tuesday in November. Some of the five Public Regulation Commission seats also will be on the ballot.
Add to that the U.S. presidential primary. It is quite a horse race right now but likely will be decided long before our last-in-the-nation election. A few pundits are predicting a drawn out race in which every delegate vote will count but don't bet on it. The Republican race already had been decided by this time four years ago.
All four Republican candidates, who still are in the race, have been certified for the New Mexico ballot. Any others who want to get on will need to submit 16,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office by March 12. If former Gov. Gary Johnson gets the Libertarian Party nomination, he will be on our November ballot.
Our U.S. Senate race, along with the three House races also will be on the June ballot. Those candidates will face a pre-primary nominating convention in mid-March to determine who gets on the ballot. It takes a vote of 20 percent of the delegates to get on our state ballot. Filing additional signatures also will get a candidate on the ballot but that never has been a road to victory.
Most of the congressional races have seen some action lately so let's look at those.
In the U.S. Senate primary, the big news is that Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has withdrawn his candidacy. That throws a very new dynamic into the race. Two candidates remain from the original four. Bill English, of Alamogordo, withdrew earlier and threw his support behind Greg Sowards of Las Cruces.
Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson remains the favorite in the race and at this point appears to be a prohibitive favorite. She has about $1.2 million in her campaign account.
Sowards has $636,000, which isn't shabby but the question is will he use it and how will he use it?
Like Newt Gingrich, Sowards fired his campaign staff a few months ago. He has replaced some of them but will he be able to develop the organization necessary to give Wilson a run for her money?
From the beginning, Sowards has billed himself as the only true conservative in the race. That should give him an entrée to Tea Party voters but how well can they be organized?
Wilson has spent her time traveling the state presenting herself to voters. She is projecting a softer image of this time around instead of the hard edge that has defined her in the past.
The big question is if and how soon Wilson may begin a move toward the philosophical middle in order to attract independent voters and conservative Democrats.
In the 1st Congressional District race, Democrat Marty Sanchez has landed a huge endorsement from former President Bill Clinton. State Sen. Eric Griego jumped in the race first and has picked up some environmental endorsements despite Chavez's accomplishments in the area.
Michelle Lujan Grisham leads the tightly bunched pack in fundraising with a big endorsement from powerhouse Emily's List and one from the national Women's Political Caucus.
In the 3rd Congressional District, Democratic incumbent Ben Ray Lujan has picked up a challenge from former rival Harry Montoya.

Monday, February 13, 2012

2-13 Legisloature must end Thursday noon

21512 sine die
SANTA FE – Ready or not, only one day is left in the 2012 Legislature. This 30-day session ends Thursday at noon – no ifs, ands or buts. The New Mexico Supreme Court decided about 50 years ago that the Legislature no longer could "stop the clock," as it was called, to get its business finished.
Congress and many state legislatures keep going until the leadership decides it has had enough. In New Mexico the watches of the House speaker and the Senate majority floor leader determine when it is noon.
That power used to include stopping the clock for several hours to get business finished. But today, no fudging is allowed. Any legislation passed after noon does not become law. Legislative per diem also stops at noon.
Usually much gets done on the final day. One house or the other often stays in session most of the night. This is true in Congress and virtually every state. But it isn't working quite that way in Santa Fe these days. The rhythm is a little out of kilter.
The fault lies with both the governor and Legislature. Gov. Susana Martinez is accustomed to getting her way. Word floats around the capitol that the first gentleman has been heard to say that he has never won an argument with his wife.
Thus the governor tells lawmakers that unless she gets a bill worded exactly the way she requested, a veto is assured. She fulfilled that threat in spades last year. Even though Martinez says she is communicating better with lawmakers, the conversations don't seem to involve much give and take.
Senate Democratic leaders have reacted by bowing their backs. The almost evenly divided House has tried to work out compromises. But when the answer from the governor is no, the Senate, which is 2-1 Democrat, refuses to even hear the bills.
It would be nice if one out of the 112 legislators could be able to establish some meaningful communication. Or maybe the answer is that it is all political in preparation for the November elections.
Another problem is that compared to our previous governor, Martinez doesn't have much of a legislative agenda.
Halfway through this session, Democrat lawmakers decided they should develop a comprehensive agenda of their own so there would be more to talk about and bargain with.
So this session may not end up as frantic as they used to be. Little need exists for the usual last-minute bargaining because there is no horse trading with this governor.
The only responsibility for this session is to get a budget passed. The House managed to craft a budget that received a first-ever unanimous vote. It even left leeway for the Senate to add its own priorities. If that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Democrats may be cruising for some black eyes. In the House, 26 of them voted against an anti-corruption measure that increased penalties for wayward public officials. The House unanimously passed a package of three constitutional amendments to reform the Public Regulation Commission. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez now says they need to be studied for a year.
Trial lawyers, largely Democrats, killed a spaceport bill to reduce liability of equipment contractors that some of our spaceports biggest competitors have passed.
Gov. Martinez has asked for reconsideration. It could work if there is something Martinez is willing to give Democrats in return. But that's not the way this governor plays the game.
Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera still hasn't been confirmed by the Senate. The excuse now is that there may not be enough time.
House Speaker Ben Lujan has been on the job every day of the session. His son, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan says his father told the family at Christmas that he hoped to be able to last until the first day of this legislative session. The session obviously brought him new energy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

2-13 Gov, Legislature in agreement sometimes

21312 Legis coop
SANTA FE – Amid legislative-executive turf battles, a few islands of bipartisan cooperation have surfaced. The most noticeable collaboration concerns the reform of the Public Regulation Commission. Everyone is working together on that item.
As of this writing, the term "everyone" is not an exaggeration. A package of three constitutional amendments presented by the bipartisan think tank Think New Mexico has unanimously passed the House, including its committee referrals. The measures have the support of Gov. Susana Martinez and will be carried in the Senate by leaders of both parties.
The PRC has been a dysfunctional organization since its inception. Its members often have been politicians prone to extracting favors from industries they regulate. The proposed changes would transfer out several of those industries and require some expertise in those that remain.
These three constitutional amendments are but the first steps in shaping up the commission. Other improvement measures have been introduced this year and more will be needed in the years to come.
The state budget is another area of general agreement between the governor and Legislature. Little fighting occurred over the budget during last year's contentious session. A budget target was agreed upon at a level much below the projected $450 million deficit and both sides worked to meet that figure.
The Legislature's only heartburn was that Gov. Martinez took full credit for the success in her opening address to the Legislature this year. An old pro like former Gov. Bruce King would have shared credit with lawmakers and would have referred to them as his board of directors.
This year may be a smooth ride to budget adoption again. The House got its budget over to the Senate later than its target date of mid-session but much has been agreed upon already. Back in the 1970s, with Democrats firmly in control of everything, the fights were between the House and Senate. Sometimes the House wouldn't get its budget to the Senate until a day or two before adjournment.
This year, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee waited until it could get complete agreement from its Republican members before sending the bill to the House floor. It was my first time in 49 years on the scene up here that I can remember a unanimous HAFC vote.
The bill, as sent from the committee, leaves some room for Gov. Martinez's pet projects and tax breaks. A spokesman says the governor appreciates their decisions.
Basic agreement also exists on the major areas of spending – public schools and Medicaid. Veterans' benefits appear to be another area of agreement. Gov. Martinez has been very interested in helping veterans. Former Gov. Bill Richardson also championed several veterans' benefits early in his administration. It is a popular and justly-deserved benefit.
Tightening necessary areas in drunken driving laws is another area most governors and legislatures have agreed upon. Fireworks legislation became a popular subject last summer when forest fires were devastating the state. Now that the governor and Legislature are considering legislation to curb fireworks in dangerous areas, fireworks dealers are arriving in Santa Fe to deliver the message that this is their livelihood.
If restrictions are applied to the sales, it won't apply to Indian reservations. Martinez says she can work with reservations. Last summer, the governor was looking for a blanket authority to ban fireworks, which she currently does not have. The suggestion has been made that the state forester be given the authority. Gov. Martinez says she can work with that.
The areas in which the governor and Legislature do not agree are not major issues that have to be solved. If drivers' licenses for illegal aliens were an emergency, the licenses either could be taken away or any one of several solutions proposed by Democratic legislators to meet the governor's concerns could be passed.
As it is, licenses and voter identification likely will not pass in an all-or-nothing form the governor can accept and sign. So nothing will happen.

Monday, February 06, 2012

2-10 Metal detectors in our state capitol?

21012 Legis 7
SANTA FE – Soon we may have to go through metal detectors to visit our state capitol. It's too bad. New Mexico has always prided itself on having a very open capitol. In some states it is necessary to have an appointment to get into the area where legislative offices are located.
In New Mexico one can stroll into the capitol and wander through the building, admiring the artwork and visiting legislative offices and committee rooms. Apparently we still could do that under rules suggested by legislators fearful of their security. We'd just have to go through imposing metal detectors first to be checked for handguns and anything else dangerous one might be carrying.
The reason for this legislative paranoia is the dubious acts of "occupiers" who disrupted Gov. Susana Martinez's opening address to the Legislature this year. A few days later, these folks burst into a dinner hosted by a national conservative organization for Republican legislators.
The handful of occupiers did a lot of yelling and distributed fake menus stating some of their grievances with the organization. Evidently they threw some of the menus too because a companion of Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican lawmaker, was hit in the eye by one.
Although the occupiers have caused trouble, they seem more likely to protest gun ownership rather than carry guns themselves. Members of the Tea Party, on the other hand, are more likely to support gun ownership.
But although tea partiers sometimes carry guns to rallies in support of their second amendment rights, they do not seem to be any threat to legislators despite their summer of yelling at members of Congress at town meetings in 2010.
Thus it seems overly cautious to increase security measures beyond maybe adding a few extra state police at times that might be controversial. The police actually are a friendly presence around the capitol, always pleasant and willing to talk. The capitol, by the way, also has surveillance cameras with monitors in a basement office.
But more security seems to be the direction everything is headed. It's likely every courthouse in the nation has metal detectors at every door. When I arrived in Santa Fe in 1965, the governor had one state policeman assigned to him. For years, it was "Red" Pack, who also chauffeured the governor wherever he went. Now the governor has a corps of police, including those housed in a building next to the governor's residence.
So maybe it is only natural that lawmakers want more security too. In addition to a security detail, Gov. Martinez also has what she calls a tracker who follows her around shooting film of all her public presentations. The president has one of those. He also has a photographer whose latest pictures are posted in a hallway in the White House. Will we be seeing that anytime soon in New Mexico?
As of this writing, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has everyone guessing about his plans for the future. It seems likely he will withdraw from the U.S. Senate race. Filing day is next week, before the Legislature adjourns and he is very busy being president of the Senate.
Some are guessing that it is likely Sanchez will switch to the 1st Congressional District contest. Sanchez says he won't enter the House race. He would have to put a good amount of time into the switch which would require new nominating petitions.
Sanchez never has seemed to put the energy into his Senate race that he put into building his small roofing company into the major business it is now. The explanation can't be that his job is keeping him too busy. Other than presiding over the Senate, he has only the responsibility to stand in for the governor.
That job takes very little time because the governor's staff handles decision making. Maybe Lt. Gov. Sanchez knows more than we do about Gov. Martinez's future.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

2-8 Legislature still dominated by politics

20812 Legis 6
SANTA FE – Politics still dominate the 2012 Legislature. Redistricting helped set the tone. All lawmakers will be running in at least slightly different districts this year. That makes for some tension.
The judicial decision on districts in the almost evenly divided House is being appealed because Democratic leaders charge it will help Republicans. Both parties presented plans designed to help their own. The judge decided the Republican plan was fairer.
Gov. Susana Martinez also is partly to blame. Her campaign manager still is her chief adviser so her relations with the Legislature are being handled as a political race would be. Instead of working with lawmakers to resolve differences, she announces she will not compromise and goes directly to voters to promote her positions.
And Democrats are partly to blame. They control the Legislature and will use that power in any manner that can help them. As an example, consider the confirmation process. Theoretically, the governor should get to choose the team she wants to help her govern.
But if there is a way for the opposition to make her squirm, it will do so. Economic Development Department Secretary-designate Jon Barela considered another run for the 1st Congressional District seat he almost took from Martin Heinrich in 2010.
So the Senate Rules Committee, which controls confirmation hearings, slowed Barela's confirmation to a stop. It removes a slight amount of prestige from Barela's resume to not be able to say he was a cabinet secretary even though he has been doing the job for over a year. Now that Barela has announced that he won't run, will the rules committee quickly give him a hearing?
Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera hasn't received a confirmation hearing in over a year either. Democrats have fought some of her ideas about reforming education. Skandera says she doesn't care about having to call herself a secretary-designate. Her authority is still the same. That must ruin some of the fun for Democrats.
Then there was the grilling the Senate Rules Committee gave three appointees to the State Fair Commission for their votes to award a controversial new 25-year contract to operate the Fair's racino. Gov. Martinez, wanting to reduce the criticism that her appointees awarded the bid to a company that is behind on its payments to the state, withdrew the nominations.
The following day, the Senate quickly approved the nominations, saying the governor doesn't have the authority to withdraw the names. As of this writing, it isn't certain what will happen next but, once again, Martinez has ruined some of the Democrats' fun.
Meanwhile, as Gov. Martinez says she is willing to start communicating with legislators, she remains unyielding to compromise on any of her priorities. House Democrats have worked hard to find ways to eliminate the fraud that accompanies the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens without taking away their driving privileges.
Democrats contend that illegals need to drive their cars to do the jobs that Americans don't care to perform. Efforts to severely restrict those licenses have been met with repeated warnings from the governor that she will veto anything short of a total prohibition.
Insiders say she calculates that voters will defeat Democrats who won't totally support her. It is a campaign issue and Democrats who don't support her will be targeted in the November elections. Some already are being targeted with robocalls into their districts.
The $50 million cap on film rebates is another item of contention. Now that Gov. Martinez seems to have mellowed her feelings about the film industry, efforts to remove the cap or make some exceptions are being rebuffed by the governor saying the industry said it wants some certainty and I'm letting them know they can be certain the cap won't change.
Did New Mexico attract as much film business last year as in previous years? We haven't seen any figures and we haven't seen as many stars around town either.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

2-6 U.S. Senate races taking shape


SANTA FE – With filing day and party nominating conventions nearing, New Mexico's congressional candidates will soon be switching into high gear. Quarterly financial reports, which were due the end of January, provide some indication of where races appear to be headed.
The race for the U.S. Senate is extremely important to New Mexicans because once we elect our U.S. senators, we usually keep them for as long as they want. Sen. Pete Domenici served for 36 years. Sen. Jeff Bingaman will have served 30 years when he ends his term at the end of this year.
Four years ago, we elected Rep. Tom Udall to fill Sen. Pete Domenici's seat. Udall had 10 years of experience in the House. That didn't give him any extra Senate seniority but it did mean he could jump into his role immediately without any on-the-job training. Udall's Republican opponent was Rep. Steve Pearce who had six years in the House.
New Mexico finds itself similarly situated this year with the frontrunners in both parties boasting prior experience in the House. Former Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican, had over 10 years in the House. Rep. Democrat Martin Heinrich has been in the House four years, surviving the Republican landslide of 2010.
Wilson appears to be running the strongest race at the moment. She and Heinrich both have over $1 million sitting in their bank accounts at the moment. That is far more than any of their primary opponents.
Wilson is busy raising money and churning out news releases. Her biggest problem is that although she distinguished herself in Congress, serving on prestigious committees because of her background in national security, she also stepped on some toes.
She is working hard at softening her hard edged reputation. Her website currently shows her in various situations, smiling broadly. She also has a voting record to defend. In order to keep getting reelected in the Albuquerque area, she had to take some moderate positions. That does not serve her well in other parts of the state.
Wilson's strongest primary election opposition is coming from Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. But the opposition isn't as strong as many had expected. He is still self-funding much of his campaign and isn't making the noise that is getting him noticed.
One theory is that he is watching with great interest the notice that Gov. Susana Martinez is getting from the leading Republican presidential candidates. Not only has she been suggested by them as a vice-presidential running mate, she is a very likely choice for a cabinet position if Republicans are victorious in November.
Republicans are not polling well with women or Hispanics at this point, so having our governor out front would be a big help. Gov. Martinez insists she is not interested but she is on record indicating that she has the same presidential ambitions as our previous two governors.
If the governor were to end up in Washington next year, Lt. Gov. Sanchez would suddenly find himself our state's chief executive. Why would anyone want to go to all the work of running for the U.S. Senate when the possibility of being governor is dangling out there?
It would be interesting to see how a lieutenant governor would do taking over the reins of government. Most of our previous lieutenant governors have tried to move up after the previous governor's term. Not a single lieutenant governor since statehood 100 years ago has ever been elected governor. Many have tried but the only ones to succeed have been due to a governor's death or a move to Washington.
If the U.S. Senate race ends up being Wilson vs. Heinrich, the two will be well matched. Wilson ran statewide in the 2008 U.S. Senate primary and was defeated by Rep. Steve Pearce. Heinrich hasn't run statewide before. The little bit of polling that has been done shows Heinrich with a slight lead but that can change.