Monday, December 8, 2008

The Battle for the Senate Presidency: What's In it for US?

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight as a Democrat-Republican Thing:

The most common argument I hear against Jennings is that Democrats should not be consorting with Republicans, giving them power when the public voted in three new Democrats to the Senate just weeks ago. Attractive at first glance, this argument fails the most basic test of credibility for two powerful reasons. First, should Jennings win, power will remain strictly among Democrats, whether in the form of committee chairs or key assignments. Republicans will vote for Jennings not because he promises them power, but because they prefer his leadership in the Senate to that of Cisneros and his allies, for other reasons. Second, allegiance to the Democratic Party, while it sounds good, often gets trotted out only when convenient. Manny Aragon had no qualms about joining in with Republicans when it brought him to the Presidency of the Senate in 1988, but he complained bitterly about lack of loyalty to party when Richard Romero ousted him from that position by joining with Republicans in the Senate in 2001. The Jennings-Cisneros fight is not about party loyalty, and you should be suspicious about the motives and candor of anyone who makes this argument.

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight as a Conservative-Liberal Thing:

This argument has more credibility. Jennings and his closest allies are more conservative than Cisneros and his. Thus, the argument goes, liberal Democrats would like to replace Jennings with a more liberal President. But while this may appeal to some liberal senators, whose numbers increased slightly in the November senate elections, it should not be overstated. Sen. Cisco McSorely, perhaps the most liberal senator of all (and an advocate for Cisneros) showed no loyalty toward fellow liberal President Manny Aragon in 2001 when he joined Richard Romero and conservative Republicans to throw Manny out. And Jennings was certainly not too conservative a year ago even for the most liberal of senators when they nominated him in caucus and voted unanimously for him on the floor. So the move to replace Jennings is motivated by more than this.

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight as a North-South Thing:

From what I have read in blogs and newspaper reports, several senators from the North are arguing that, with Jennings out, power would be restored to the North. This is true. The South at this time has three key positions: Jennings, president of the senate, is from Roswell. John Arthur Smith, Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and Mary Kay Papen, Chair of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee, are from the south. Should Jennings lose and these two positions go to nortenos, power will in fact have been transferred from south to north. There will be no sureno left in a key position. So there are powerful north-south dynamics going on here, and Southern senators who have not yet decided whom to support for President should carefully consider the prospects of a senate controlled by nortenos. Every time this has happened in the past Southern Democrats and the interests they represent have been ignored by power structures in the north. And if nortenos feel comfortable arguing to take power away from the south, surenos should feel equally comfortable arguing to maintain power in the south.

The Jennings-Cisneros Fight and Governor Richardson

There are persistent rumors that Governor Richardson has decided to side with Cisneros. Recent op-ed pieces filled with rage against Jennings, written by John Wertheim, who has been anything but independent of the Governor, suggest this may be true. If so it raises serious questions about the motivations of both the governor and the Cisneros faction in seeking a change in the leadership of the senate. The senate, under both Ben Altamirano and Tim Jennings, while often going along with the Governor, has been relatively independent, compared with the House. It was Sen. John Arthur Smith, and fellow senators, for example, who told the Governor last summer that the state’s economic condition did not warrant a tax rebate to citizens pushed by the Governor, a stance that has proven to be right on target, and which saved taxpayers a lot of money. Why would the governor, who is scheduled to leave the state during the session, want to help control the outcome of this fight? If he has good reasons, he should come out in public and state them. And senators should make up their minds who to vote for on the basis of what is good for their constituents, rather than pressure from the Governor.

Where do we stand?

There is no single or simple explanation for the struggle to control the senate. Some senators may be motivated to elect a liberal, some to elect a northerner, some may have personal likes or dislikes among the contenders. And there are some reasons, good or bad, we may not even be aware of. There is also good old-fashioned self-interest: some senators will benefit if Jennings is overthrown, and some will benefit if he stays. A lot will boil down to a question of individual trust. Southern senators, however, had better have very powerful reasons before they vote to hand their power back to the north.


Anonymous said...

Great review I hope all the southern NM Senators read your article before they vote. Gov Richardson has done very little for southern NM other than a Spacepork project that none of us will gain from.

Anonymous said...

I live in the other end of the state, Raton to be exact. Good post and a great blog.