Bipartisan leadership wins

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State house majority reduced from 45-25 to 37-33 margin

By Jay Miller

The Republican tide that swept the nation made New Mexico about as Republican as it has been since the Great Depression.
We’ve had several Republican governors during that period and once or twice Republicans have captured one of the other statewide offices. But this is the first time a Republican has been elected secretary of state since Jesusita Perrault held the office in 1930.
For many years, the Republican Party and the media have had problems with the secretary of state’s office. The GOP’s primary complaint has been that the office has allowed massive voter fraud to occur throughout the state, although that never has been proven.
The media’s problem has been with the lack of helpful, usable and timely information out of the office. With Dianna Duran, an experienced county clerk soon to be handling matters, let’s hope that both concerns can be adequately addressed.
Although Secretary of State Mary Herrera has been accused of many misdeeds, her biggest political problem seemed a result of difficulties relating to others, including members of her executive staff and county clerks, many of them Democrats.
In the gubernatorial race, Susana Martinez came away with a convincing victory, although not as big as Duran’s victory margin. She will see  now what she can do with a Democratic legislature and some big promises made.
The promises are likely to be her biggest obstacle. She has pledged no tax increases during her four-year term and not to reduce public schools or Medicaid, which between them, constitute 60 percent of the state budget.
In addition, she has promised tax cuts in order to stimulate economic growth.
Tax cuts may have a long-term positive effect on economic growth although Gov. Bill Richardson hasn’t received much credit for his big tax cuts of eight years ago creating any growth.
But the short-term effect of tax cuts is that they must be paid for immediately in order to balance the budget.
Martinez has said she is willing to cut up to $500 million out of the budget in her first year. That kind of cut out of the 40 percent of the budget she is willing to touch would be in the neighborhood of a 25 percent cut to agencies if it is done across the board.
But she may not have to cut that much.
Current legislative projections are for only a $260 million budget shortfall.
The problem with October revenue projections in the past has been that the shortfall tends to increase as the beginning of the January session nears.
The new governor’s biggest problem is that she can’t cut government spending or reduce taxes on her own.
She must convince the legislature to send her legislation authorizing what she wants.
Both houses are controlled by Democrats so Martinez must seek some bipartisan agreement.
That is something she didn’t mention throughout her campaign.
But legislative election results may have produced some good news for her. The Democratic majority in the House has been reduced from a 45-25 margin to a 37-33 spread.
The last time Republican numbers were that close to the Democrats, a controlling coalition was the result.
Several conservative southern Democrats and opportunistic northern Democrats were convinced to join Republicans in return for committee chairmanships and other favors.
The state Senate is now controlled by such a coalition, which elected conservative Chavez County Democrat Tim Jennings as president pro tem of the Senate.
The difference in this situation is that Democrats are still in control of the Senate but under the leadership of someone other than their party caucus’ choice.
Under the situation that existed in the House during much of the 1980s, Republicans, even though they were outnumbered by Democrats, controlled the House.
The current situation dictates that present House Speaker Ben Lujan lead in a much more bipartisan manner than he might otherwise.
That bipartisan leadership may be just what Martinez needs to accomplish her goals.