Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rodefer Challenging Sapien

Former state Rep. Ben Rodefer will challenge state Sen. John Sapien of Corrales in the Democratic primary.

"I am humbled by the many community leaders who have asked me to serve this district again. I look forward to a spirited campaign with Senator Sapien," Rodefer said in a news release. "Elections are about choices, and I think there is a clear choice for voters to make this year."

Rodefer was elected to the Legislature in 2008 but was defeated in 2010 by Republican David Doyle.

If Rodefer is successful in the primary, he will face Doyle -- who recently announced he's seeking the GOP nomination for the District 9 seat -- once again in November.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another State Senator Not Seeking Re-election

State Sen. Mark Boitano of Albuquerque just announced that he'll be joining fellow Republicans Clint Harden and Vern Asbill and Democrat Dede Feldman in not seeking re-election next year.

 “I have always believed in term limits, and after four terms in the Senate, it is time to move on and allow others to continue the fight in the Senate to improve New Mexico,” Boitano said in a news release.

“I have a real estate business to run, a wife and children I love and want to spend more time with, and I will begin looking for new opportunities to serve my community and state,” he said.

Sen. Rue Seeks Re-election

Sen. Sander Rue
I have to admit that when I just saw the email without a subject line from state Sen. Sander Rue, my first thought was, "Oh No! Another one bites the dust!"

But that's not the case.

The email was announcing that Rue will be running for re-election for his west-side Albuquerque district.

His announcement stressed Rue's sponsorship of the bill that created the Sunshine Portal as well as his support for education reform

Roundhouse Roundup: Did Auditor Spat Push Harden Out?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 26 2012

Did the well-publicized feud between Public Regulation Commissioner Pat Lyons and State Auditor Hector Balderas lead indirectly to State Sen. Clint Harden getting a challenger in the Republican primary?

Sen. Harden
Lyons denies it, but Harden — who decided not to seek another Senate term after Lyons’ niece, Angie Spears, announced her candidacy against him — thinks it might be a factor.

Harden last week told me that he and his wife had decided last year that he would seek one more term representing the northeastern Senate District 7 — unless he got a primary opponent.

Then, just a couple of days before the legislative session ended, Spears, a 37-year-old mother of four, a former state Senate bill analyst and director of a Clovis counseling agency, announced she would seek the seat. “We need leaders with the courage to stand up to the status quo and fight for real reforms. New Mexicans are fed up with politicians who don’t represent their views,” she said in a news release.

PRC Commissioner Lyons
The release contained endorsements of two powerful Republicans in the district — Lyons, her uncle, who had held the seat for 10 years before Harden, and Matt Chandler, the district attorney in Clovis and GOP nominee for attorney general last year, who is related to Spears through marriage.

The weekend after the session, Harden announced he would not seek re-election. “I just didn’t want to run in a primary and then against a Democrat in November,” he told me. “I just don’t like the ugliness of the political arena. It’s too hyperpartisan.”

A primary had potential for nastiness. Harden said constituents had received robo-calls blasting him. The pre-recorded call accused him of voting for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. “It didn’t mention that was the 2003 vote,” Harden said. He’s since voted to repeal the bill.

Angie Spears
Harden said he doesn’t have any proof, but he suspects Gov. Susana Martinez might have been behind the challenge. The governor, he thinks, might not like the fact that Harden was the only Republican senator to vote in favor of Sen. Linda Lopez’s bill that would have required intervention and remediation for third-graders not proficient in reading. Lopez’s bill was the Democrats’ alternate to Martinez’s bill that would require such third-graders to be retained.

“I made it clear that I would vote for any bill to help kids read,” Harden said.

He also said Martinez probably didn’t like his vote in favor of Senate Democratic Leader Michael Sanchez’s bill that would require some criminal records to be expunged. But he wasn’t alone there. A strong majority of Republican senators also voted for that bill.

Spears, by the way, denies that Martinez was behind her candidacy. She noted that Martinez didn’t endorse her until Harden dropped out.

But, asked about Lyons, Harden said he also got on the commissioner’s bad side when he declined to sponsor a proposed constitutional amendment that Lyons had asked him to carry. That measure would have made the office of state auditor an appointed, not an elected, position. It also would have required the auditor to be a certified public accountant. Balderas is a lawyer, not a CPA.

Early during the session, Balderas called upon Lyons to resign from the PRC for improper use of a state vehicle. Lyons said Balderas was trying to score points in his U.S. Senate race. It wasn’t the first time the two had been at each other’s throats.

“I just didn’t want to get involved in that,” Harden said.

Lyons confirmed that he asked Harden to sponsor the legislation but denied he holds a grudge that Harden declined. “I like Clint. He’s a good guy.” Lyons also said he never talked to Martinez about running someone against Harden. “The governor never talks to me,” he said.

Harden, who is known as a champion for children with autism, said he intends to remain active in that and other areas.

For a look at other changes coming in the Legislature see my Saturday story in the New Mexican.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dede Feldman Leaving Senate

Sen. Dede Feldman, who has represented her northwest Albuquerque district for 16 years, will not seek re-election to the state Senate this year.

In an email to constituents, Feldman wrote:

Now it is time for me to move on into new fields, and clear the way for someone new to carry the torch for Senate District 13 in Santa Fe. I have been honored and humbled to serve the people of the North Valley—and beyond.

But here's the part I like best: "I will step up my blog and continue my e-mail newsletter. And stay tuned. I am working on a book, hopefully out next year, on how the New Mexico legislature really works."

That's a book I'll read.

Democrat Feldman joins a growing list of senators not seeking re-election. In the past week, Sens. Clint Harden of Clovis and Vern Asbill of Carlsbad, both Republicans, have announced their intentions to retire. Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, is seeking a Congressional seat.

Also either Sen. Rod Adair or Sen. Bill Burt won't be back next year. The two Republicans are pitted against each other due to redistricting. (I guess it's possible both won't be returning, but that southeastern district would be pretty tough for a Democrat to win.)

So it looks like there's going be a significant number of new faces in the Senate next year.

UPDATE: 12:10 pm The plot thickens. Rep. Bill O'Neill just announced that he's giving up his House seat to run for Feldman's Senate seat. O'Neill's House district is considered a swing district, which O'Neill won by just a hair in 2008.
“Residents of this area know my work in the House, and I know their keen interest in having legislators work together," O'Neill said in an email announcement. "I loved being in the House, and hope that experience will help build consensus on key issues facing our state.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Susana & The Hair Dresser

Gov. Susana MartinezThe story, first broken by Stuart Dyson at KOB, of Gov. Susana Martinez and the hairstylist spread all over the Internet yesterday.

In short, the openly gay Santa Fe hairdresser, who has cut the governor's hair a few times in the past, is refusing to do so now because he learned that Martinez does not support gay marriage.

For a story in today's New Mexican I spoke with hairdresser Antonio Darden as well as the governor's office.

And the governor's office provided a voice mail left by Darden last week. You can play that below.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell stressed that Darden was not Martinez's regular hairdresser, saying, "He only cut her hair two or three times about 10 months ago."

He said that Martinez has a regular hairdresser  in Santa Fe as well as one in Las Cruces.

The only other contact the Governor's Office had with Darden, Darnell said, was when a governor's staffer "called seven or eight different hairstylists about three months ago, on short notice, to see if any had time to get the governor in for a quick haircut. [Darden] and a couple others simply said they weren't able to, but another location was."

Following Dyson's  report the night before on Darden refusing to take an appointment for Martinez, the Governor's Office on Wednesday received calls from more than 10 hairstyling businesses that said they'd be "more happy to cut the governor's hair," Darnell said.

 Darden said he received more than 100 calls of support Wednesday. Some were from other hairdressers saying they also would refuse to work for Martinez.

In the message makes a references  to a controversial outburst at the state Capitol last year in which state Rep. Sheryl Williams-Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, accused a Republican legislator of "carrying water for the Mexican on the fourth floor" -- a reference to Martinez.

In the voice mail, Darden said the comment was "appropriate since she wants to be attacking the gay people." On Wednesday he said the point he was trying to make in bringing up Stapleton's comment was that nobody should be attacking other groups -- be they Mexican Americans or gay people.

Among the various reports around the web was a blog post on New York magazine's site that  had a tongue-in-cheek headline: "The Gay Hairdresser Revolt Has Begun."

 "Maybe it's just an isolated incident -- or maybe it will become the catalyst of a nationwide boycott that will wreak havoc on the hair of anti-equality politicians across the country," the blog said.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rasmussen: Obama Leads, Senate Race Close in NM

While my head was lost in the Legislature last week, the Rasmussen organization was polling in New Mexico.

President Obama, according to the poll, would handily defeat both Rick Santorum (55 percent to 37 percent) and Mitt Romney (55 percent to 36 percent.)

That's even stronger for Obama than the last PPP poll here, which was done in mid December. According to that poll, Obama was beating Romney 53 percent to 38 percent. (Santorum apparently wasn't included in that poll. Obama was leading other Republican candidates by similar margins in the PPP match-ups)

PPP is a Democratic polling company. any observers say Rasmussen tilts toward the GOP. But they seem to be on the same page in this state.

It's enough to make you wonder whether New Mexico will still be considered a swing state in the presidential race.

However, the Senate race still looks swingin'.

The new Rasmussen poll shows that the Senate race is a virtual toss-up,showing Democrat Martin Heinrich with a 2 percent advantage over Republican Heather Wilson. When Hector Balderas is named as the Democratic candidate, he and Wilson are tied at 44 percent each.

Rasmussen's automated poll is of  500 likely voters, conducted on February 14. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.5 percentage points.

UPDATE: 4 pm Wednesday Rob over at Capitol Report New Mexico posted some Rasmussen numbers on Gov. Susana Martinez. In a nutshell, she's popular, according to last week's poll. 33 percent of voters polled strongly approve while another 33 percent "somewhat" approve.

While the 94 percent approval rating from Republicans could almost be expected, what interested me is that a majority of Democrats also approve of her performance -- 21 percent strongly and another 32 somewhat. Read all the numbers HERE.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two GOP State Senators Stepping Down

Sen. Asbill
Two Republicans in the state Senate, Clint Harden of Clovis and Vern Asbill of Carlsbad, are not seeking re-election this year.

Senate Republican spokeswoman Diane Kinderwater just emailed the news about Asbill.

“Our precious grandchildren are growing very fast, way too fast, and we want to spend more of our time with them in Artesia.” Asbill said in the news release.

Sen. Harden
The email contained quotes from fellow senators from both sides of the aisle praising Asbill, a career educator, for his sponsorship of bills last year establishing the A-F grading of schools and expanding Katie's Law to require DNA samples from all felony arrests.

Meanwhile, the Clovis News Journal reported Saturday that Harden won't run this year. Harden, a former state Labor secretary, perhaps best was known for being a champion of children with autism.

Last week another candidate, political newcomer Angie Spears, announced she was running for Harden's seat.

Gov. Signing Anti-Corruption Bill Today

There was no serious doubt that Gov. Susana would sign Senate Bill 197 -- Sen. Bill Payne's bill anti-corruption bill. In fact she's making it the first bill she signs after the session. She's doing it today at 3 p.m. in front of the Albuquerque Metro Court Building.

There's not just a little but of symbolism involved here. That courthouse project is what landed former Sen. Manny Aragon in prison.

The bill will make it possible for state officials who are convicted of corruption charges. It wouldn't have affected Aragon because he was convicted of federal charges.

Roundhouse Roundup: Who's Buying Their Lunch?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 19 2012

During the recent session, several reporters and political bloggers saw their stories blasted on the floor of the House or the Senate. I was among them.

In fact, one story I wrote early in the session, the one about the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) got blasted on the floors of both chambers.

Even though one lawmaker called the story “reckless journalism,” it wasn’t actually the story that got some legislators upset, but the fact that a handful of Occupy Santa Fe protesters barged into an ALEC dinner and a guest of a House member was injured by a piece of cardboard thrown by a protester.

Sen. Payne
 Folks in my line take stuff like this as a badge of honor. I do, too, even though I was horrified that somebody was injured. But something that stuck in my craw was said during the ALEC outrage.

That’s when Senate Republican Leader Bill Payne not only criticized the ALEC piece, but another story I had written that week — one of my weekly-or-so reports on the money lobbyists spend on parties, receptions, drinks and gifts during the session.

Payne said the lobbyist article, based on the reports lobbyists are required to file with the Secretary of State’s Office, implied that there was something wrong with lobbyists spending cash in local bars, restaurants and hotel ballrooms and thus contributed to an “anti-business” bias in Santa Fe.

Of course, that’s not true. I know a lot of folks in the hospitality business, and I’m happy that the big show at the Roundhouse gives local businesses a bump. And I know a lot of lobbyists. I don’t consider them to be the embodiment of all evil in politics. I know they aren’t trying to “buy votes” with drinks or fancy dinners — though social events are a good way to build relationships with legislators and other officials.

I’d be the last one to want to throw water on a party. But here’s the deal: I think you, the reader, has the right to know who’s buying lunch for your lawmakers. So expect similar stories based on lobbyist reports in sessions to come.

Here's links to my articles on lobbyist reports during the past session:


Rep. Bratton
A memorable memorial: As I’m writing this column, on the last night of the session, I’m listening to the Senate “debate” a memorial to encourage the chile industry in New Mexico. Not that I object to our chile industry and the marvelous product it produces. But jeeeeez! Meanwhile, all sorts of serious legislation is rotting on the legislative vine.

But there was one memorial this session that would have been worth passing. In fact, maybe it should have been a bill.

House Republican Whip Don Bratton of Hobbs introduced House Memorial 69 — calling for a second legislative session just to handle memorials. The idea for a special session for memorials is tongue-in-cheek, but the points that HM 69 raises are valid.

In this piece of legislation, Bratton notes that in 1996, there were only seven House memorials introduced. But this year, there were at least 76 House memorials introduced. (He doesn’t even mention the fact that the Senate introduced at least 87 memorials this year, up from the 55 that were introduced in the Senate in the previous 30-day session.)

HM 69 says that memorials in the House alone cost the taxpayers roughly $35 per page for 450 pages and that the House has spent an average of two hours a day debating and passing memorials.

The memorial says, “the people of New Mexico would be disappointed to know that their elected representatives are spending two hours per day debating memorials that carry no legal weight ...”

Sometimes in legislative-speak “disappointed” means horrified.

Bratton’s memorial went nowhere. According to the Legislature’s online bill-finder, it never got out of its first committee.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It's True. The Session Is Over

Sure is quiet around here ....

I was a terrible blogger yesterday. Spent all my time getting info for my articles in the paper that I didn't even write a Sine Die post.

Be that as it may, HERE is a story I wrote with Trip Jennings about the end of the session and implications for the upcoming election.

And HERE is a massive list of bills that pass and bills that failed. It's not complete, but feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

Kate Nash has a portrait of outgoing House Speaker Ben Lujan. It's HERE

If you want the official list of legislation that passed both the House and Senate, you can find that HERE.

Sine Die!
House Speaker Ben Lujan's last post-session press conference

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Press Needs Its Stinkin' Badges!

It's that time of year when they shut down the halls on the first floor to keep it clear for members. What normally happens is that both the House and Senate issue press members little badges so we can go talk to who we need.

To their credit, the Senate sergeant at arms did this week ago. However, the House hasn't, even though just about every reporter I know has requested one.

Hope this changes quickly.

(less than) Twenty Twenty Twenty four Hours to Go!

It's a tradition. If I were king of the Legislature this song would be played in both chambers at this time every year.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Senate Honors Speaker Lujan

"Give Me the Roses While I Live," sang The Carter Family.

The state Senate just did that for outgoing Speaker Ben Lujan, who is not seeking re-election because he is suffering from lung cancer.

Senators from both political parties made emotional speeches thanking him for his service to the state and for personal kindnesses he showed through his lengthy career.

There weren't many dry eyes on the Senate floor.

This one's for you, Mr. Speaker:


Senate Passes Budget Bill

In a late-night session, the state Senate passed House Bill 2, the $5.6 billion state budget on a bipartisan 34-6 vote. The vote took place shortly before midnight.

The bill, which passed the House last week. It goes back to the House now because the Senate Finance Committee added an amendment to appropriate $5 million in recurring funds -- for drug court, new judge positions and other expenditures -- and $12 million added to the state's reserves. If the House concurs, the bill will go to the governor for signature. If the House doesn't concur there will be a conference committee to come up with a compromise.

Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, proposed a number of additional amendments to the bill. Among them, prohibiting school districts from paying lobbyists, prohibiting schools paying employees who are legislators during legislative sessions, and adding $3.9 million to the governor's early reading initiative. None of his amendments passed.

The entire budget debate on the Senate floor took less than an hour.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valdez Drops out of Senate Race

 Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andres Valdez has dropped his longshot candidacy and now is supporting state Auditor Hector Balderas for the position.

Here's part of his statement Valdez, a longtime Albuquerque activist, just emailed me.

I have been in talks with Hector Balderas the other Hispanic Candidate for U.S. Senate running in a largely Hispanic state, New Mexico, and as in a relay race I have passed over a baton of issues over to candidate Hector Balderas since which he has agreed to embrace. The issues are economic democracy, land grants, addressing police brutality as human and civil rights, corporate accountability by eliminating corporate loopholes and other measures and regarding immigration supports the Dream Act. We continue talks over other issues and look forward to a progressive from New Mexico in the U.S. Senate
This leaves Balderas and U.S. Rep. Martin  Heinrich in the Democratic primary.

Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and Las Cruces businessman Greg Sowards are running in the Republican primary.

Senate Corruption Bill Passes House

After years and years of trying to pass a bill that would make it possible to make state public officials convicted of corruption-related crimes forfeit part of their state pensions, Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne finally pulled it off.

His Senate Bill 197 passed the Senate unanimously last week. And today, the House followed suit, passing it 67-0.

The bill goes now to Gov. Susana Martinez, who has been supportive of anti-corruption bills.

One factor that surely helped was that that it was carried in the House by Democratic Leader Kenny Martinez.

Earlier in the session Martinez was one of the major voices against Rep. Nate Gentry's similar anti-corruption bill, House Bill 111. That bill passed the House, but a majority of House Democrats voted against it.

Both bills called for possible pension forfeiture for those convicted. Payne's bill also allows a corrupt official's salary to be part of restitution.

One difference in the two bills was that HB 111, in the version voted on in the House called for the possibility of extra prison time for public officials convicted of embezzlement, bribery, etc. It also prohibited conivicted public officials from becoming lobbyists or state contractors. (The Senate Public Affairs Committee amended the bill last week to remove those provisions.)

That's not the case with Payne's bill. "Sometimes you can put too many things into a bill," Payne said at a news conference following the House vote.

But apparently the main factor that won over House Democrats was that SB 197 defines public officials as those elected or appointed to an office covered by the Campaign Reporting Act. HB 111 included anyone receiving a state pension.

UPDATE: 2:49 pm I rewrote this to reflect the fact that the House actually passed it.The original version was posted before the House vote.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Just Say "Moe"

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 12 2012

Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque, was on a roll last week during the House Consumer & Public Affairs debate on several bills that would have required voters to present photo identification at the polls.

He quickly earned the "Quote of the Day" on this paper's legislative page when he invoked a metaphor for the specter of voter fraud in the state, which he and others say doesn't exist.

"If my constituents want me to introduce a bill to outlaw the Boogeyman, I could either introduce a bill outlawing the Boogeyman, or I could gently explain to them that there's not a Boogeyman."

But he also made another funny at the same hearing.

In talking about how impractical and expensive it would be for a crooked candidate to organize people to steal the identity of others and vote in numbers big enough to defeat an opponent, Maestas said the money would be more effectively spent "doing a mailer and lying about your opponent."

All three bills were tabled, thus effectively killed, by the committee. It wasn't due to Maestas' wit, however. It was the same party-line vote that defeats these bills every year they arise.

Goose step misstep: The next day, Maestas also was on fire during the debate on repealing the law that allows the state to issue driver's licenses to undocumented people. He made a reasonable argument that allowing illegal immigrants to have licenses actually helps law enforcement. Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael has been making the same argument in legislative committees this year.

He brought up the infamous 2009 Denny's murder in Albuquerque in which members of a Central American gang went into a restaurant to rob it and killed a teenage cook in the process. At least two of the robbers had state driver's licenses. Opponents of the law used the killing as an example of how the law is dangerous. Maestas argued that the licenses helped police track down the killers.

But then Maestas stepped in it. Or maybe I should say goose stepped in it.

"If you tell a lie ... people will start saying it, then they will start to believe it," he said. Then he compared it to "The Big Lie" of the "propaganda ministers of Nazi Germany."

Oh no, Moe!

I believe it was the great political philosopher Jon Stewart who once declared that anyone who compares his opponents to the Nazis automatically loses the argument.

If you don't like this column, you're a Nazi
Stewart did a great routine last year on The Daily Show, spotlighting Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen for equating opponents of President Barack Obama's health care program with the Nazis' "Big Lie" about Jews. (Actually, Adolph Hitler accused Jews of using "The Big Lie" in Mein Kampf, but let's not quibble.) Cohen's speech came just days after he made a speech calling for civility and an end to hyperbolic name-calling.

Shortly thereafter, Stewart skewered Fox News for various hosts getting upset about Democrat Cohen's Nazi talk, one of whom self-righteously declared that her network never would do such a terrible thing. Stewart played a montage of a dozen or so examples of Fox News talking heads comparing others with Hitler and other assorted National Socialists.

Fortunately, Nazi accusations are infrequent in New Mexico politics. Let's hope it stays that way.

For (re)Pete's sake!: Sen. Phil Griego, D-San José, told people waiting to testify at a recent Corporations and Transportation meeting on Sen. Peter Wirth's bill on corporate income tax that he wouldn't allow any repetition from people testifying.

And I agreed with him. Anyone who has ever attended legislative hearings knows that some speakers often make the same points the last dozen or so speakers just made.

Only trouble is, Griego must have said he wouldn't allow any repetitiveness at least five times, both before the meeting and during.

Here are those Jon Stewart segments:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Getting a Little Testy?

It looks like Senate Democrats are getting a little snippy about the recent attention to the proposed constitutional amendments to reform the Public Regulation Commission.

The Senate Majority Caucus just released this statement:

"The bills on PRC reform are all in a similar place as all bills that have been referred from the House. HJRs 11,16, and 17 will all be heard in the committee at the call of the chair, and will be brought to the floor if and when they are passed through the appropriate committees.

We need to be deliberative and thoughtful anytime changes are made to the New Mexico constitution, and that will be the case with PRC reform."

You can see the story my colleague Trip Jennings wrote about the PRC proposals HERE. He quoted Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez saying, "I'm not sure if they're going to make it to the [Senate] floor."

The Critical NM Presidential Primary

Only four months until the New Mexico primary. And while most folks around here are most concerned about the U.S. Senate races -- and some with legislative, PRC and county offices, there's also a presidential primary going on too.

In recent presidential elections both Democrats and Republicans wrapped up their races long before our state's June Primary. In 2004 and 2008 the Dems held a caucus here in early February, which brought a lot of the candidates here both years. (Some cynics say that the Democratic Party's vote-counting process in 2008 served as a model for Republican vote counters in Nevada and Iowa this year.)

According to a news release from the Secretary of State's Office, something called the New Mexico Presidential Nominating Committee met today at the Supreme Court. Said panel certified Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul. President Obama was certified as the only candidate for the Democratic ticket.

But -- take note, Buddy Roemer -- other Republicans or Democrats can appear on the presidential primary ballot by successfully collecting and submitting approximately 16,000 signatures on or before March 12.

The committee is made up of the Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and the minority floor leaders of the House and Senate.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

It's Official. Sanchez Quits Senate Race

The lieutenant go vernor is out, leaving only Heather Wilson and Greg Sowards in the Republican Senate primary. Here's the official statement from the Sanchez campaign:

 Eight months ago, our campaign for the U.S. Senate began with one clear objective: to give New Mexicans the opportunity to send conservative leadership to Washington D.C.  The timing on this race was not ideal nor did we choose it. But the need for a conservative leader from New Mexico is real.

   Throughout the course of this campaign, it has become clear to me, that in order to ensure that a Republican is elected to represent New Mexico in the U.S. Senate, the G.O.P must stand united. A bitter and divisive Republican Primary would only diminish our party’s genuine opportunity to bring real change in Washington. The reality is that the path forward to success in the campaign could cause a negative primary struggle that would leave the eventual nominee bruised, bloody and broke. 

  After much prayer, counsel with my family, and discussions with supporters, I have decided to end my campaign for the U.S. Senate, and continue to serve New Mexico as your Lt. Governor. 

  I want to express my sincere thanks to those New Mexicans who joined our campaign. I am forever grateful for the support we received from grassroots leaders, tea party patriots, business owners, GOP activists and everyday citizens. They offered their efforts and their dollars and it meant the world to me. This was not my time, but I will never forget their friendship. 

I am redirecting myself today to helping our party advance the strongest slate of candidates to victory in November, from the Roundhouse to the White House. 

  I hope that you will join me in working with Governor Martinez, and all conservatives to complete the important work that we have begun in New Mexico. 

May God Bless and Keep You, and may God Bless America and New Mexico.

More details as they develop.

UPDATE 12:06 pm : Former Sanchez rival Heather Wilson responds with the first nice thing she's said about Sanchez in at least eiught months:

“Lt. Gov. John Sanchez is a fine public servant who has always put the needs of New Mexico first. He ran a good campaign that questioned the current direction of our country and emphasized the importance of this election. I consider John a friend, and I know he will continue to serve New Mexicans with honor.”

UPDATE: 1:50 pm  I just got this statement from Gov. Susana Martinez's spokesman, Scott Darnell:

The governor supports Lt. Governor Sanchez’s decision to exit the Senate race and focus on serving as Lt. Governor to help turn New Mexico around.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Once Again House Votes to Repeal Driver's License Law

Once again the state House of Representatives on Wednesday voted pass a political hot potato bill that would repeal a state law that allows the state to issue illegal immigrants driver's licenses.

Following a near four-hour debate, the House by a vote of 45-25, passed House Bill 103, sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez, I-Hatch. The bill is strongly supported by Gov. Susana Martinez.

The bill goes on to the Senate, which last year heavily amended a similar House bill, effectively killing it.
Wednesday’s vote showed Nuñez’s bill by a larger margin than last year. Three Democrats who voted against last year’s bill — Rep. Nick Salazar of Española, Henry “Kiki” Saavedra of Albuquerque and George Dodge of Santa Rosa — voted for HB 103.

A total of 11 Democrats joined all 34 House Republicans and independent Nuñez in backing the bill.
Santa Fe’s delegation — House Speaker Ben Luján, Luciano “Lucky” Varela, Jim Trujillo and Brian Egolf — all voted against the bill. All four are Democrats.

Elsa Lopez, an activist with Somos un Pueblo Unido, a local immigrant-rights organization, said her group wasn’t surprised by the vote. Though she’s hopeful that the Senate will once again stop the driver’s license bill, she said people in the immigrant community fear that the bill is only the first one to be aimed at immigrants. “It starts with driver’s licenses,” she said, noting that years before Arizona passed its controversial immigration bill, the state stopped issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants.

The Arizona law requires police officers to check the immigration status of individuals whom they've stopped and for whom they have "reasonable suspicion" of being in the United States illegally.

However, supporters of the bill denied this. “This is not about immigration, it’s only about public safety,” Martinez’s chief of staff told reporters shortly after the vote. He said the administration will not push a law like Arizona’s “There’s no desire to do immigration law. The governor has said in public that we’re not in the business of doing immigration law.”

Nuñez said the same thing. “The Arizona law is too harsh,” he said.

See tomorrow's New Mexican for more on this.

Lots Happening in Roundhouse Today

After many quiet days, a lot has actually happened in the Legislature today.

The House just a few minutes ago passed the budget bill, which now goes to the Senate. The vote was unanimous and the discussion was relatively brief.

From the House Dem press release:

 The House of Representatives has passed a budget for the next spending year that begins July 2012. HB2 would provide $5.642 billion in state spending, an increase of $215 million (nearly 4 percent) over this year’s budget. The spending plan leaves $41.8 million to allow for flexibility in hammering out a final budget (such as tax reductions, pension solvency, infrastructure funding, or as a hedge against weak natural gas prices).

Meanwhile, the Senate approved not one, but two of Gov. Susana Martinez's cabinet appointees -- Arthur Allison at the Indian Affairs Department and John Bemis at the Department of Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources.

Both votes were unanimous, though Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, noted before the vote on Bemis that he had disagreed with Bemis over drilling in the Galisteo Basin. Wirth left the chambers before the vote.

Now the House is discussing the controversial driver's license bill. Something tells me it won't be as easy as the budget bill.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ds and Rs Join Hands in Bipartisan Unity ... to Stomp on Independents

In a rare display of bi-partisan unity in discussing legislation concerning elections, a House committee voted unanimously to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow unaffiliated voters to vote in primary elections.

Andy Nunez changing his voter registration to DTS last year
House Joint Resolution 17, sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez of Hatch — the only current independent legislator — would allow those registered as “declined to state” to request a Democratic or Republican ballot for the primary in June.

According to statistics on the Secretary of State’s website, as of Dec. 28, 17 percent of voters statewide are independents — which means they can’t participate in primary elections, which are paid for by the state.

In Santa Fe County, declined-to-states outnumber Republicans.

Nuñez said that 14 other states — including the early presidential primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire — allow open primaries. Viki Harrison, executive director of New Mexico Common Cause, testified in favor of the measure, saying that it would encourage participation in the electoral process.

 But both Democrats and Republicans on the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee argued that only those affiliated with a party should be allowed to chose candidates for that party. All four members present voted to table the joint resolution.

“I would do anything to get more people to vote,” committee chairwoman Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said. Nuñez said he wasn’t surprised. “I knew where this was going when the Speaker (of the House) gave it three committee assignments,” he said.

Keller Reacts To Robinson Reemergence

State Sen. Tim Keller, who defeated incumbent Shannon Robinson in the Democratic primary in 2008, sent me a statement regarding my Sunday column about Robinson announcing he'll challenge Keller for the seat this year -- this time as a Republican:

 “It's time Shannon Robinson live in the present. Gone are the days when he and Manny Aragon ran the Senate and he could freely dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars to club teams he coached. Shannon lost, 2 to 1, in large part because of his compromised record, not because of one mailer. I think people recognize I’ve worked hard to help our district and pass meaningful legislation for our state.”
By the way, Keller told me this little irony, In 2008 Robinson attacked him for once being a ... Republican. Keller said he registered as a Republican while he was a teenager, but switch whiled he was in college.

I told you this was going to be a fun one to watch.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Some Recent Articles

Here's a bunch of links to articles I've written about (but neglected to blog about) in recent days:

* My weekend story on where various bills stand in the session is HERE

* My most recent look at lobbyist reports, in which I noted that some of the biggest recent social events for legislators have been thrown by groups associated with state universities. That's HERE

* And, turning away from the Legislature for a moment, here's an article I wrote for Saturday's paper about the Americans Elect group having enough verified petition signatures to get on the November ballot. Previous pieces I've done about Americans Elect are HERE and HERE

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: The Return of the Bull Moose

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 5, 2012

Baby boomers may recall an old TV Western called Branded starring Chuck Connors. In the opening segment, Jason McCord, played by Connors, is at an Old West military outpost being marched before a commanding officer. 

As McCord stands straight, square-jawed and silent, the much-shorter commanding officer violently yanks the hat off McCord's head, rips the epaulets off his shoulders and the buttons from his shirt, then finally takes McCord's sword and breaks it over his knee. McCord walks out of the fort as soldiers close the gates behind him. 

Former Sen. Shannon Robinson
"That's what the progressives did to me," former state Sen. Shannon Robinson told me in an interview last week, describing the opening of Branded. 

Nobody actually broke Robinson's sword or ripped his buttons. But in June 2008, Robinson, who had represented his southeastern Albuquerque district for 20 years, lost a bitterly fought Democratic primary to a political newcomer, Tim Keller. 

Robinson blamed his loss partly on a full-color mailer produced and distributed by the Center for Civic Policy and other progressive groups that attacked Robinson's ethics. Two other Democratic legislators who were the subjects of similar mailers also lost their primaries that year. 

So, as the theme song went, "What do you do when you're branded and you know you're a man?" 

In Robinson's case, you switch parties and run for your old seat. Late last year, Robinson changed his registration from Democrat to Republican. The person who handled the registration was none other than former state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates. 

When I asked if he was running against Keller, Robinson said, "That's the plan." Asked if he was going to have a formal announcement, he said, "I thought that's what this was." 

Robinson, a lawyer with a flair for the dramatic, perhaps was best known for his fiery floor speeches in the Senate. He usually was passionate, sometimes bombastic and never dull. 

He said one reason he's running is because of an increase in crime in District 17, which includes the area south of Central Avenue now called The International Zone, though some have less cheerfully referred to the area as "The War Zone." 

He said the laundry where he takes his dry cleaning has been the target of three armed robberies in recent years. "The last time someone held a gun at the lady's head," Robinson said. 

"There are serious security problems that aren't being dealt with," he said. "We have to rebuild property values there. There's a lot that needs to be done." 

Robinson sometimes used to refer to himself politically as a Bull Moose, after Teddy Roosevelt's old third party. Bull Mooses, he said in a 2002 speech on the Senate floor, are united by issues related to tobacco, alcohol and outdoor sports such as shooting and boating. "Trucks and guns ... and cows. Anything having to do with cows." 

The fact that he was a driving force in passing the state law permitting the carrying of concealed handguns should make him popular with Republicans. But some in the GOP might have to overlook some things about Robinson, such as the fact that for a while, he frequently criticized the Iraq War on the Senate floor. And he was behind a peace conference that was held in Santa Fe a few years ago. ("Some of us are for that sort of thing," a prominent Republican activist told me last week when I mentioned the subject.) 

Robinson told me he missed being in the Legislature. "I always considered it an honor to serve, and I tried to conduct myself in a way to reflect that honor," he said. 

I'm not in the business of choosing sides. I like Keller, too. But the Robinson/Keller rematch should be fun to watch.

(Here's what Robinson said the progressives did to him in 2008)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sanchez Quitting Senate Race?

Well, that's what Heath and Gwyneth are saying, relying on the word of a "source with knowledge of the situation." (Those are my favorite kind.)

GOP Lt. Gov. Candidate John Sanchez Lending credence to the unnamed source is Sanchez himself, who is quoted saying, "I can tell you as of today I am a candidate for the United States Senate."

Yikes! I guess my mistake was not asking Sanchez to swear he was still in the race, like Gwyneth did.

The weird thing is that I ran into the lieutenant governor the night before last. I was leaving the Capitol and he was heading back.

We just made small talk, not a formal interview. I mentioned that his campaign hadn't been very visible since the session started. He indicated to me that he was tied down at the Roundhouse during the session but he'd be getting back on the campaign trail when the session ends.

Back in 2002, when he was a state representative running for governor, Sanchez was criticized by his Democratic opponent Bill Richardson for missing floor sessions, allegedly because of campaign events. I'd been thinking Sanchez wanted to avoid any repeat of that criticism in his Senate race.

Clifford Passes Rules Committee

UPDATE: 2:31 pm As I predicted, the Senate confirmed Tom Clifford for DFA secretary a few minutes ago. The vote was unanimous.

Tom Clifford is the latest appointee of Gov. Susana Martinez to be recommended for confirmation by the Senate Rules Committee.

I'll go out on a limb here and predict that the full Senate will confirm him by the end the day. There's been no opposition, no controversy. Clifford has been around state government for years and is well respected.

If the Senate does get around to confirming him today, he'll be the third Martinez cabinet secretary confirmed this session, following Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel and Aging & Long Term Services Secretary Reta Ward.

Still awaiting confirmation are designates Hanna Skandera, Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela,  Arthur Allison at the Department of Indian Affairs; and John Bemis at the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Senate Rules Recommends Marcantel

UPDATE 3:17 pm  The full Senate voted 38-1 to confirm Gregg Marcantel as Corrections secretary.

Despite the concerns of Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez about Corrections Secretary designate Gregg Marcantel, the panel recommended the confirmation of Marcantel for the job. Lopez was the only dissenting vote.
Gregg Marcantel with Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings
after Senate Rules Committee hearing Wednesday

Lopez  in a letter to Marcantel released to reporters on Monday, said she was concerned that Marcantel, a career law enforcement officer, had not disclosed a civil lawsuit in which he was a defendant. That suit centers on an informant who earned early release in exchange for information in a drug case; the man later pleaded guilty to raping two children. Marcantel was a detective with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department at the time

Lopez, in her letter, also said Marcantel hadn't disclosed two suspensions that took place early in his career when he was a corrections officer in Louisiana.

Marcantel told the committee that he wasn't trying to hide anything. He was dropped as a defendant in the civil suit before it was settled he said.

As for the two suspensions, Marcantel said, he said the question on a questionnaire wasn't clear. The question asked whether there had been allegations of sexual harassment or other "workplace misconduct" against him.

The suspensions took place when he was 19 years old he said and "knew nothing more about police work than what I saw on Beretta."

He said he had disclosed those suspensions in previous background checks for law enforcement positions.

"I'm not a great guy," he told reporters after the hearing. "I'm a guy that’s got as many faults as anybody else. But I am going to tell you what I am not, I am not a liar.”

Law enforcement officials from around the state were at the hearing to testify in favor of Marcantel's appointment. These included Public Safety Secretary Gordon Eden and Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston.

Houston told the committee that dealing with confidential informants is one of the uglier sides of law enforcement. "Sometimes to get to the Devil you have to dance with demons," he said.

Marcantel still must be confirmed by the full Senate.