Martinez worries state workers

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE - If you like political surprises, you should love the next six months of the 2010 campaigns.

Sure, attack ads will fill the air. They’ve already started in the gubernatorial race and we will be able to add the 1st and 2nd congressional district races to that soon. But expect some almost unpredictable twists also.

Remember the last gubernatorial race in 2006? Gov. Bill Richardson was sailing toward his second term when Republicans suddenly switch horses after they already had nominated Dr. J.R. Damron as their candidate. That was an all- time first.

Former state GOP Chairman John Dendahl didn’t do any better against Richardson but he made more noise. And then Dendahl left the state after losing.

Dendahl warned that pay-to-play was worse in New Mexico than in any other state. That was a term not in general usage at the time. Now it turns out Dendahl may have been right.   

It appears the U.S. attorney’s investigation of pay-to-play in New Mexico will not result in prosecution. But a similar investigation in New York state is resulting in some mentions of New Mexico. Will anything come of that?

Gov. Richardson appears firmly settled on the fourth floor now for the rest of his term but word still floats in the halls of state government that something is still afoot.

If for some reason Richardson does leave before the end of his term, Denish becomes the incumbent and gains some likely advantage. She will have at least a little time to show what she can do — or can’t do. It could be a disadvantage. Claims by a few politicos that they already have been interviewed by Denish for cabinet positions add to the conjecture of an early Richardson departure.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Susanna Martinez surprised most political observers with her strong showing at the state GOP convention in March and then continued her spectacular climb through the June primary. Will that momentum continue now that she encounters a well-prepared and well-funded Lt. Gov. Diane Denish?

Being new at running for statewide office, Martinez could stumble or be weak on issues other than crime. It appears as though she is being heavily advised and is capable of taking the coaching better than John McCain’s people were able to do with Sarah Palin.

Teaming two Hispanic Republicans will be a completely new experience. Democrats tried it once, with Fabian Chavez and Mike Alarid, and it didn’t work. The Cook Report, a national handicapper, calls this contest a toss up.

Many state employees are worried by Martinez comments that government has grown by 5,000 employees since the Johnson administration. Does that mean she will cut 5,000 employees? Actually, some 3,000 employees are said to have been cut already by the hiring freeze that has been in effect since November 2008.

Feelings are running high enough that the State Personnel Office, for the first time in awhile, has issued a memorandum to all state employees reminding them of state laws and administrative codes that prohibit political activities while at work. Evidently some employees had used state computers to pass along concerns that Martinez would start slashing state jobs if she becomes governor.

The reality of the alleged 5,000 additional employees is that this isn’t necessarily more people sharing the same amount of work. Every year the Legislature passes new laws and regulatory agencies pass new regulations creating additional functions of state government. Those new laws and regulations require additional employees to administer them.

Originally public safety, education and transportation were about the state’s only concerns. Since then, the state has become involved in many hundreds of other areas in our lives. Each time we see a new special interest group form, we see efforts for new legislation to provide state services to that group.

In this time of financial distress, wouldn’t it be nice for state government to surprise us by taking a look at all those new services?

E-mail Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.