Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup:Tensions Between Gov and GOP Senators?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 15, 2011

Gov. Susana Martinez & Chief of Staff Keith GardnerHouse Republicans have been complaining all week about the slow pace of the special session — mainly because, so far, only bills pertaining to the complex redistricting process are being heard, and not the other items on Gov. Susana Martinez's agenda.

But that's the House. We haven't heard much in the way of similar complaints coming out of Senate Republicans.

However, one thing I'm starting to hear — in off-the-record whispers from lawmakers from both parties and staff — is that there are some real tensions developing between the Governor's Office and Senate Republicans.

This, according to the talk, is because the Republican governor doesn't think GOP senators are doing enough to push Martinez's legislative priorities.

Sen. Stuart Ingle
In fact, one senator — to be sure, a Democratic senator — said this week there's even been talk of Martinez getting someone to run against longtime Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales in the GOP primary next year.

Ingle in an interview Wednesday downplayed any tension with the Fourth Floor. He also shrugged off the rumor of a primary challenge,

"You hear those kinds of things in a session," Ingle said. "If she wants to do that, she can."

Ingle remains popular among his caucus. Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, noted that all but two Republican senators signed the redistricting bill for New Mexico Senate districts that Ingle introduced on Wednesday.

"That's a pretty good indication of the support we have for our leadership," Harden said.

A spokesman for Martinez declined to comment Wednesday when asked about reported strains in her relationship with GOP senators.

An independent beast: Martinez wouldn't be the first New Mexico governor to learn that the state Senate is not a very good place to try to find cheerleaders. She found out during her first regular session that the Senate was where many of her pet bills — a proposal to end driver's licenses for foreign nationals being the most notable — went to die. They died even though Senate Republicans voted for them.

Bill Richardson always had House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, to watch his back — and sometimes pull his proposals out of the fire — in the House. But he almost always ran into trouble in the Senate. What started off as "tensions" in the early years ended up as open loathing in some cases by the end of Richardson's second term.

And some of his most vocal Senate critics were fellow Democrats.

Back in the Richardson era some assumed that he had trouble with the Senate because the political makeup of that chamber was more conservative than the House.

I'm starting to think that's no longer true. For one thing, since the last election, the House has grown more conservative.

But also you have other factors at work. A major one is that the Senate prides itself on its independence.

One lawmaker told The New Mexican on Wednesday that Martinez and the House Republicans might be closer and know each other better because they both ran on the same ticket in 2010. Senators, who serve four-year terms, were not on the ballot last year.

But the senators are close to one another. Perhaps because of their longer terms and because the Senate has no single strong-man equivalent to the House speaker, there's a more clubby atmosphere in the Senate. There are lots of long-term, bipartisan friendships there, the most famous being that of Ingle and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell.

Like Richardson, Martinez undoubtedly will learn that the Senate is a bronc that's not easily broken.