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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

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