Inside the Capitol

Friday, March 02, 2012

3-9 GOP political strategy unfolding?

30912 GOP strategy
SANTA FE – Although a Republican legislative agenda never seemed to materialize during the past three legislative sessions, it appears a GOP political strategy has been alive and well from the beginning.
The basic plan is to take the House in November and to remake Senate into a more combative corps that may not win more legislative battles but will help set the stage for Gov. Susana Martinez's reelection in 2014.
You will remember that the GOP took full advantage of the 2010 national GOP landslide to reduce the overwhelming House Democratic margin down to 37-33. Soon after the 2011 session commenced, Democrat Andy Nunez, of Dona Ana County, got crossways with House Speaker Ben Lujan and became an independent.
Nunez has since voted often with Republicans and has carried some of Martinez's controversial bills. Martinez returned the favor by mentioning Nunez often in her opening speech to the 2012 Legislature.
During the past three sessions, the GOP has targeted House Democrats representing marginal districts. It has recorded votes on driver's licenses for illegal aliens and voter identification that it will hammer on during the general election. The outcome, most likely, will depend on the political dynamics of national races.
The Senate situation is a different scene. Democrats currently hold a 2-1 margin in seats. No state Senate contests were held in 2010 when the political landscape was so favorable for Republicans. The GOP national outlook isn't quite as good this year.
The GOP is looking at picking up a few seats but getting to a tie that can be broken by a Republican lieutenant governor would require a switch of seven seats, which isn't likely to happen.
Lieutenant governors don't always vote the party line. Two years ago, with Gov. Bill Richardson out of state, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish not only voted against Gov. Richardson's desire, she immediately signed the measure as acting governor.
But the defection with the biggest impact was in 1990 when Senate Democrats playfully created a tie vote for conservative Lt. Gov. Jack Stahl to break in favor of the General Appropriations Act that Gov. Garrey Carruthers had negotiated with Democrats.
But instead of voting for the measure, Stahl voted against it, thereby creating the need for a special session. The Appropriation Act is the only bill that has to pass the Legislature. And that time, it didn't.
According to blogger Joe Monahan, the GOP strategy for the 2012 general election is not to win control of the Senate but to create a band of fighters that will make life tough on the Senate Democratic leadership.
That will require removing easy-going Sen. Stuart Ingle as Senate Republican leader and replacing him with someone who will push Gov. Susana Martinez's agenda hard.
The plan also will require primary election opposition for some Republican senators who do not toe the line for Martinez. Three Republican senators already have announced they won't be running again.
Those incumbents are Sens. Clint Harden of Clovis, Vernon Asbill of Artesia and Mark Boitano of Albuquerque. Three candidates already have announced for Harden's seat.
A niece of former Sen. Pat Lyons is the candidate reportedly preferred by the Martinez crowd. Following his service in the Senate, Lyons served two terms as land commissioner and currently is chairman of the Public Regulation Commission.
Watch those three races for a view of what may be to come in the Senate. Apparently the message is being delivered that the first loyalty of Republican senators should be to the governor and not to the Senate. That could cause some mighty big waves in the traditionally independent Senate.
Another factor to consider in this possible Senate shakeup is that the Senate president pro tem is not the person chosen by the Democratic caucus.
At the beginning of the 2009 Legislature, Democrats chose Sen. Carlos Cisneros as their candidate. Cisneros was defeated by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats supporting Sen. Tim Jennings.
If Republicans decide to play hardball, that may not happen again.


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