Shutdown parts sheets of some political bedfellows

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By Sherry Robinson

In New Mexico, we can count our small herd of cash cows on one hand, and each one is caught in the government shutdown just as the state was beginning to stagger out of the recession.
Washington’s stalemate finally ended late Wednesday night, but the rhetoric at home has fired up some political campaigns. The oddest may be Democrat John Wortheim’s campaign for state treasurer.
Wortheim, a former state party chairman who comes from an old New Mexico business-banking-ranching family, has tangled with the New Mexico Business Coalition. He accused the coalition of having ties to Charles and David Koch, saying “the Republican billionaires who have attacked our progressive values are the modern day architects for the government shutdown.”
The coalition counters: “Can you imagine what a disaster it would be to elect a state treasurer who openly states his desire to bring ‘progressive values’ to the treasurer’s office?” The group denies having ties to the Koch brothers, but explained that a recent event had one Koch-supported sponsor.
Wortheim supports a constitutional amendment to use state permanent funds to improve education. (That’s a whole ‘nother column.)
The coalition, a 501(c)4 group that doesn’t have to report its donors, is a newcomer among business groups, started in 2009 to elect pro-business candidates and be a business voice in the Legislature, where there are already plenty of business voices.
Here’s the coalition’s response to the shutdown: “Opposition to Raising the National Debt Limit, De-funding Obamacare, Taking a Stand for America? The New Mexico Business Coalition (NMBC) says yes, yes and yes! We did not want to be in the position of the current federal government ‘shutdown.’ But we applaud those elected officials in Washington, D.C. who are taking a stand against raising the national debt and de-funding a law that the majority of Americans didn’t want in the first place.”
That message apparently didn’t go over so well, so the coalition throttled down a day later: “The shutdown is a shame — and it’s not even for the right reason. While the NMBC is glad to see some elected officials take a stand, it’s a bit late, being played out for the wrong reasons, and it’s creating havoc with many peoples’ lives.” The coalition then blamed the President for not compromising and changed the subject: “If some in Congress want to make a stand, let it be for the debt ceiling and the budget.”
Democrats should thank the Kochs for helping them raise money. The Kansas industrialists have become the favorite bogeymen in Dem campaigns, just as the President is in conservative campaigns. The Kochs have cast longer shadows in New Mexico since August when the governor went to hobnob with major donors at the Kochs’ super secret meeting at the Tamaya Resort in Bernalillo.
But even the Kochs, who supported the Tea Party, are backing away from the ideologues who thumb their noses at big business. Last week Philip Ellender, Koch Companies lobbyist, wrote a letter clarifying that while the company isn’t a fan of Obamacare, it has never lobbied to defund it. The Kochs, he said, are focused on balancing the budget and cutting government spending.
News reports also describe cooling relations between major business organizations and the Tea Party Republicans behind the shutdown. Already at odds with Republicans over immigration reform, business is particularly worried about a debt default.
The other campaign to watch, for the same reasons, is Democrat Roxanne Lara’s run against Rep. Steve Pearce, who has apparently forgotten how many government contractors he’s got in his 2nd District. The national Democratic Party recently declared this contest one of the nation’s most competitive races.
The New Mexico Business Coalition might want to check which way business is leaning before tooting its horn again on the shutdown or default.