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Monday, December 01, 2008

More on NM Senate Pro-Tem: Jennings Says He'll Fight to Keep Post

CCisnerosSen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa (right), was nominated yesterday in a three-hour-plus, closed-door caucus by Dems in the New Mexico Senate to serve as Senate Pro Tem. If Sen. Cisneros wins a majority in a vote of the full Senate when the New Mexico Legislature convenes in Santa Fe on January 20, he'll replace Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, as Pro Tem. Sen. Jennings was elected Pro Tem to complete the term of Sen. Ben Altamirano, who passed away late last December.

Images-1Now Jennings (right) has announced that he intends to fight to keep his job by putting together a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats to get the 22 votes needed to win. Currently, there are 27 Democrats and only 15 Republicans in the 42-member New Mexico Senate.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, was quoted as saying he thinks Cisneros has 19 solid votes, but that a 21-21 tie is a distinct possibility. Although the Lt. Governor votes to break ties if they occur in the Senate in votes on regular legislation, that's not the case with a vote on leadership. I'm not sure what would happen if the vote on Pro Tem turned out to be 21-21. Anybody out there know?

The Challenge for Jennings
In order to gain a majority of support, Jennings would have to win over all the Reubs and peel away at least 7 of the 27 Democratic Senators, convincing them to take a public stand against Cisneros. And if Ortiz y Pino is correct in saying Cisneros has locked up 19 votes, the battle might come down to gaining the support of 3 Dems who are still reportedly undecided. It doesn't hurt that at least 3 more reform Dems are in the Senate this cycle compared to last year. Jennings, known as a fiscal conservative who fights tooth and nail against environmental protections, can be expected to try and woo conservative Dems like John Arthur Smith of Deming and Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, as well as moderate Hispanic Dems. But here's where it gets complicated and risky to cross party lines.

JasmithFirst off, it seems highly improbable that Hispanic Dems would vote against Cisneros, who would be the first Pro-Tem from Northern New Mexico. Secondly, if Sen. Smith, D-Deming (right), voted for Jennings and Jennings lost, do you think the Dems would vote to retain him as Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Commmittee? After all, it's rumored that many in the Dem caucus are already pushing for change there, supporting Sen. Pete Campos to head Appropriations. And in order to get Repubs to back him, would Jennings have to promise them one or more committee chair slots? If Jennings follows through on his threats to take on Cisneros, I don't see a future anywhere for him within the Dem caucus. Maybe he'll go all the way and cross the aisle for good. Oh, to be a fly on the wall (or within the cellphones) when our Senators are discussing the possibilities, and the stakes.

According to the Albuquerque Journal:

... Jennings said he wouldn't make any Republicans committee chairmen if the minority party helps him stay in power.

"All I've ever done is be a Democrat and that's all I'll do," Jennings said. "I haven't made any deals with anybody for anything."

Well, except that Jennings went out of his way to support a Republican -- now defeated Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson of Roswell. Jennings recorded a robocall and a radio ad on behalf of Rawson in his race against now Senator-Elect Stephen Fischmann, who beat Rawson in a close race in SD 37.

Jennings: Nonpartisan Puritan?
Jennings is now clearly trying to paint himself as some kind of pure and nonpartisan (or bipartisan), above-the-fray voice of fairness in all this:

He's defended his actions repeatedly, however, and said Sunday that the pro tem shouldn't be a partisan position.

"I think I'm the best one suited for stopping the negative stuff that's going on," said Jennings ...

Spare me. I'm not the only one who's noticed that the only time Jennings has criticized "negative stuff" was when the seat one of his supporters on the Repub side -- Rawson -- was in jeopardy last month. He didn't say a word about the sleaze being thrown at Dem legislative candidates like Victor Raigoza, Tim Eichenberg and Andrew Barreras this cycle -- or any other negative campaign tactics employed by Repubs over the years. Funny how that works

Plus, it's still unclear how Jennings was the recipient of a phone message he says labeled Rawson as a "crook" when he doesn't even live in Rawson's district. Jennings has claimed he got a so-called push-poll call from some "conservation group" whose name he can't recall. In comments on a previous post on DFNM, Sandy Buffet of the Conservation Voters New Mexico Action Fund defended a phone program undertaken by the PAC in Rawson's district:

Conservation Voters NM Action Fund conducted a live persuasion ID phone program in SD 37 as part of our PAC voter contact program, and our script DID NOT contain the word alleged by Senator Jennings. If the voter said they were undecided or could change their mind about which candidate they would support, we DID point out that Rawson had used capital outlay (as reported in the LC Sun) to pave a road outside of his district and clear across town in front of his family business. In contrast, we stated that Steve Fischmann will work for ordinary New Mexicans that live in his District and will work to create new jobs in the renewable energy sector. I don't believe these are "dirty tactics".

A Test for Sanchez
For his part, newly reelected Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez has said he hopes to have the matter settled before it comes to a Senate floor vote. So he intends to have the Dem Senators lined up to support Cisneros in adequate numbers before the official vote. And he has a lot of power to wheel and deal, cajole and needle, to get there.

Cisneros has claimed in the past that Jennings agreed to step into the Pro Tem slot as only a temporary measure, to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Altamirano. I guess Jennings thinks otherwise and is willing to go out on a limb to prove it. We'll see in the coming weeks whether Jennings is all hat and no cattle (er, sheep), or if he really does mount an all-out challenge to Cisneros in the face of intense pressure from Sen. Sanchez and other Dems. My money's definitely on Senator Cisneros to survive and triumph over the status-quo forces on Jennings' side.

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December 1, 2008 at 12:19 PM in 2008 NM State Legislature Races, Democratic Party, NM Legislature 2009 | Permalink


IMHO, Sen. Jennings needs to keep his head down and STFU. He's a turncoat, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he changes parties if he's ousted as Pro Tem, which seems almost certain.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Dec 1, 2008 12:45:45 PM

I call on the Senate to redistrict Jennings' seat if he continues this bullcr*p. Seriously. We don't need phony LieberDems in state politics. Jennings screwed up royally, and he will necessarily pay the karmic price for being loyal to the wrong people.

I guarantee that we will primary Jennings' sorry *ss, (trunk?) in 2012, along with any Democrat who votes for him. Count on it.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Dec 1, 2008 2:46:38 PM

I seem to recall Senator Jennings saying he doesn't have sheep any more, they kept being eaten by coyotes.

I tried to find out the exact projects funded by HD 59 rep Espinoza (and I do plan to run against this Palin wannabe in 2010) to put the fracas about the road Rawson funded in focus, as I recall she funded at least one project in Corona in Lincoln Co, which is not in her district (I got her list of funded projects this spring from the Roundhouse 4th floor library).

Legislators do this all the time. I also wanted to check and see if Rawson was the sole contributor to that road in Las Cruces, or just putting in some of the funds. This is something else that legislators do all the time, they share costs of projects.

BUT I just got an email from the legislative council service that this information has now been ruled confidential. Quote, "Individual capital outlay projects [requested] will be available on each legislator's home page, in the drop-down box under each legislator's image, along with their sponsored legislation. The individual projects are listed in the final bill, but the sponsors for those projects will
no longer be available, as this information has recently been ruled

VERRRY interesting. Who made this ruling? Since when are the voters not allowed to find out how their tax money is spent?? (OK, it's money from the severance tax that the oil and gas industry, coal too I believe, pay.) I hope readers understand that legislators generally sign EVERY capital outlay request placed before them, so as to not offend a possible supporter. Usually, depending on how profligate they are with their signatures, they can only fund 10% or less of the projects they signed on to.

The organizations that get the funds know, of course, but it seems that the rest of us are to be kept in the dark. Think this had anything to do with how capital outlay info was used against Rawson?

Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Dec 1, 2008 5:33:37 PM

The issue is not about the Rawson road appropriation, no matter how Sen. Jennings and his supporters would like to make it so. Rawson's corruption or lack thereof is irrelevant. Nothing can justify a Democratic Senator campaigning for Republicans as Sen. Jennings did. Nothing.

IMHO, and most likely that of a vast majority of Democrats, Sen. Jennings has betrayed the Democratic Party by campaigning for the Republicans. Therefore, I believe he has forfeited any claim to a leadership position within the Senate. Apparently NM Senate Democrats think so, and their opinions are the only ones that really matter on the issue.

If I had endorsed a non-Democrat, much less campaigned for him as Sen. Jennings did, I would be removed from my position as a Ward chair, SCC member, and BCCC member. It's reasonable for the party to seek similar sanctions against Sen. Jennings, and I applaud the NM Senate Democrats for doing so. Our state and country needs Democrats to stand up for our principles, not roll over as our elected officials have done so frequently in the past 8 years.

Ellen, I understand that you feel loyal to Sen. Jennings for donating to your state house campaign, but he has betrayed the trust of every Democrat in the most basic way. We will neither forget that nor forgive it unless Sen. Jennings makes significant amends, which I just don't see happening.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Dec 1, 2008 7:21:00 PM

Oh yes. Party before honesty.

Please people, we must not get carried away in our victory and forget to value integrity above party.

Jennings stood up for EVERY Senator that was attacked in this election. All of the other Ds that are mentioned were not elected officials at the time.

I suppose our party believes that every decision must come from our higher ups. By the way, that isn't the way we have been successful this past year. It took guts for Jennings to stand up against such character assasinations. Even if I don't agree with him I certainly give him credit for that.

We need more legislators that will stand up for what they believe is right. Not just vote the way the party bosses tell them to.

Posted by: Ben | Dec 1, 2008 10:42:48 PM

I just sent off a letter to the ABQ Journal regarding Jennings. In the letter I wrote that I find Mr. Jennings a poor representative of the NM citizens. One of the first things that really turned me off with him was when my wife and I went to the Legislature to push for more support for programs for autism a few years ago. My wife and I found that Jennings was dismissive, glib, and didn't seem to care about the NM Autism Society member's testimony about living with autism. Ironically, it was (former) Repub. Joe Carraro who really showed he understood and cared about families affected by autism. We don't need a Republican (Jennings really should have changed his party affiliation long ago) masquerading as a Demo!

Posted by: MG | Dec 1, 2008 11:25:05 PM

Oh yes Ben! Status quo at all costs seems to be your motto. How can any progressive agenda be advanced in the old boys club when our own people campaign for legislators who alwayus vote against our interests? You and Sen. Jennings may be satisfied with the status quo. I'm not, and I'm confident that the vast majority of DFNM members and readers aren't satisfied, either.

Posted by: | Dec 2, 2008 9:59:44 AM

Please send us a good democrat to run agaist him in 4 years. Please move to Roswell.

Posted by: Virgina | Dec 4, 2008 4:43:25 PM