Monday, November 26, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: The Pro-tem Polka

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Nov. 25 2012

State Senate Democrats still have a few weeks before they nominate a candidate to replace outgoing Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings.

Like a good game of Whac-a-Mole, new possibilities keep popping up while others go down before you even get the chance to hit them over the head with a mallet.

The last time I wrote about this, there was one contender, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who was definite; one, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, who seemed just a hair away from being definite; one, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who said he was considering it; and one who was strongly rumored to be thinking about it, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

Since that time, Sanchez has announced that he just wants to stay on as majority leader, and Smith told the Albuquerque Journal that he wants to stay on as chairman of the Finance Committee.

But Sen. Mary Kay Papen also has thrown her proverbial hat into the ring. A conservative Democrat from Las Cruces, Papen could go the route Jennings took to win the position. Four years ago Jennings lost the Democratic Caucus nomination to Cisneros for the pro-tem job. But that position is elected by the full Senate, so he cobbled together a coalition of conservative Dems and all Republicans to win when the Legislature convened in January 2009.

Another new name to pop up is Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City. I asked him Wednesday whether he was running for the Senate’s top position. He admitted he is considering it, but said, “Nothing’s set in stone … everything keeps changing.”

Jennings, who served in the Senate for more than 30 years, was defeated for re-election this month.

The president pro-tem gets to preside over the Senate when the lieutenant governor is away (the lieutenant governor being the official president of the Senate). But the main power of the president pro-tem is getting to name and preside over the Committees’ Committee, which selects committee members and chairmen. That’s going to be a bigger task this year because so many new senators — 15 of 42 members total — have been elected.

Coalition politics: If Morales does run, that would mean three of the eight Democrats who joined with Republicans to back Jennings are candidates for Jennings’ job — the others being Papen and Lopez.

Senate Republicans will be representing a bigger block than they did in 2009. There were 15 Republicans then, but because of the elections, there will be 17 next year.

From the horse’s mouth: Here’s a name you can take off of the list: Sen. Phil Griego, D-San José.

I was talking to Griego about a different issue a few days ago when he volunteered this information. “You might have heard that I was running for a leadership position,” he said. “Well I’m not. … There’s rumors out there, but I’m not. You’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth.” Griego said he wants to stay on as the chairman of the Corporations and Transportation Committee.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSONRichardson at Foggy Bottom?: An article in a national online Hispanic news site caught my eye this week. The headline of a Nov. 16 story in Voxxi read, “Latinos Push for Bill Richardson for Secretary of State.”

According to the piece by reporter Tony Castro, “Hispanic leaders close to the Obama administration are lobbying the president to name former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as Hillary Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State, according to sources in Washington.

“Such an appointment would be historic, making Richardson the highest ranking Latino to ever serve in the federal government,” the story says.

Castro notes that Obama’s nomination of Richardson to serve as secretary of commerce four years ago ended badly “because of an investigation into possible financial improprieties in New Mexico. Richardson was subsequently cleared in that investigation.”

That’s not quite right. Although the Justice Department chose not to prosecute Richardson over pay-to-play allegations, then U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt wrote in a letter that the decision not to bring charges “is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party’s conduct.”