Thursday, October 05, 2006

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: FREE RIDES TO THE ROUNDHOUSE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 5, 2006


As I watched the Ethics Reform Task Force finalizing its list of recommendations to the governor this week, I couldn’t help but think of the probable fate of many of the ideas in next year’s legislative session.

Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday indicated he’ll get behind most of what the panel wants. “I expect my recommendations to the Legislature will closely parallel the task force report,” he said in an e-mail to reporters from his office.


But then there’s the little matter of the state Legislature.

The proposed reform bills will ask a group of people who have grown used to virtually unlimited gifts and campaign contributions (legally nobody’s supposed to get campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session) and lax reporting requirements to voluntarily put a clamp on all that.

This just might be asking too much, judging by the reaction to last year’s unsuccessful batch of ethics and campaign finance reform bills that made it to the state Senate last year.

So I suggest reform advocates unite, make your voices heard and make it clear you will back the first legislative candidate — Democrat, Republican, Green or whatever — to promise to back these recommendations. In the process, you might shake things up, get some new blood in the Roundhouse and start talking seriously about some other reforms that always seem to die somewhere in the esoteric maze of the legislative process.

Oh wait. ... That cock won’t fight.

As normally is the case, there’s little chance of meaningful electoral change in the Legislature.

Out of the 70 House of Representatives seats, all of which are up for election, only 29 are contested.

That’s right, there are 40 “races” in which there is only one candidate, plus one — the northeastern New Mexico seat currently held by Rep. Hector Balderas, D-Wagon Mound, who abandoned that race to run for state auditor — where there is no candidate. Whoever is elected governor in November ultimately will appoint that representative.

The number of uncontested races is in line with numbers from recent election years.

None of the 42 state senators are up for election this year. All of them run only in presidential election years.

Out of the 40 uncontested candidates, 29 are Democrats and 11 are Republicans.

Two GOP legislative candidates getting a free ride in the general election are newcomers — Paul Brady of Aztec and Richard Berry of Albuquerque.

All three Santa Fe representatives — Luciano “Lucky” Varela, Jim Trujillo and Peter Wirth — have no opposition, as is the case with House Speaker Ben Luján of Nambé. Luján, Trujillo and Wirth also were unopposed in the primary. All are Democrats.

In some ways, you can’t blame potential challengers for not running in many of these districts. Just like their counterparts in Congress, legislators are quite capable of drawing up districts that tend to protect incumbents.

One ray of hope: If legislative races get any less competitive, maybe there won’t be any need for campaign contributions and thus no need for campaign finance reform. (Don’t hold your breath on that one.)

De-Foley-ation: Republicans have to be wishing for some way to pin the whole Foley sex scandal on the Democrats.

Maverick GOP congressional candidate Ron Dolin, who is running a Quixotic race for Democrat Tom Udall’s seat, came up with one idea Wednesday. In a campaign e-mail, with the subject line “Candidate Dolin on Tom Foley and the U.S. House,” the Los Alamos Republican wrote, “No American, be they Democrat or Republican, can look at what Tom Foley did and not find it horrible and horrendous. Tom Foley should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

One problem: The former Florida Republican congressman who admitted sending all those e-mails and raunchy instant messages to teenage pages is named Mark Foley.

Tom Foley, a Democrat, was speaker of the House who lost re-election in his Washington state district in 1994. To my knowledge, he never was accused of anything horrible and horrendous.

Oh well. I know one Republican legislator from Roswell who’s undoubtedly happy that Dolin didn’t used the name “Dan.”

Inc. Credible: Richardson is one of the top four governors in the latest issue of the national business magazine Inc. The magazine rated the 26 governors up for re-election on their support of their state business community.

“We judged the governors on several criteria: tax and fiscal policy, workforce and economic development, health care, education, and regulation,” the magazine said. “We also took into account a state’s business climate.”

Of Richardson the magazine said, “The booming oil industry has allowed Richardson to rack up accomplishments. He has increased state funds for education and health care while backing an income tax cut that will reduce the state rate to 4.9 percent in 2008, a 40 percent drop.”

The magazine also complimented Richardson on last year’s news conference with Richard Branson to announce the spaceport.

Other governors to get a coveted four-star rating were Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Jim Douglas of Vermont.

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