Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The State of State Leadership

The following editorial, written by me, appears in Capitol Report, which came out this week

In Latin America during the era of dictators, when a strong man fell, the aftermath followed two roughly predictable patterns. If the dictator had fallen because civil society--political parties, newspapers, unions, and other institutions--joined to push him out in a bid to re-democratize the country, then those who had led the drive invariably emerged as effective national leaders and the ensuing regime was likely to be reasonably stable and democratic. But if the dictator had fallen through sudden death, assassination, or a military coup--some unexpected event--then a period of uncertain leadership and conflict ensued as remnants of the old guard tried to hang on and new politicians, split up and inexperienced at the game, fumbled with the opportunities before them.

The post-Richardson era is confusing at the moment because the strong man is still occupying the governor's seat, but his sources of political strength and moral suasion are unexpectedly depleted. The reckless spending spree is over, crony relationships are under various stages of official inspection, new leaders are preparing for elections next year, and most important, the public--far ahead of the political class--has the governor's number: time to move to new leadership. The political class, however, has not acted to push the governor aside by ignoring him and moving on. Instead, remnants of the old hang on; new leaders fumble; and the public grows restless.

As the public begs for leadership, among legislators the strongest leader to emerge so far is Sen. John Arthur Smith, who has responded to the crisis by telling the unpleasant truth, knowing some will want to shoot the messenger. He has used his power as Chairman of Senate Finance to hold the line, showing moral courage as well as leadership. Observers have detected among many legislators a pretending-thing-are-still--the-same, a waiting-to-see what happens next; that is, a dearth of leadership in Santa Fe this season. The most publicized lapse came when the senate voted to salvage $10 million of the governor's pet pork project, an equestrian center in Albuquerque, while slashing domestic violence shelters and pre-K classrooms, among other items. The senate defeated an amendment to cut $1.5 million from the equestrian center and use it for domestic violence shelters and pre-K classrooms. In explaining why the amendment had to be defeated, Sen. Phil Griego stated that it was designed "specifically to embarrass the governor..." Goodness,--can't have that, now, can we?

We've heard little about the mess we're in from our two hopeful candidates for governor, Lt. Governor Diane Denish and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. Should we take a time-out for them until next year, rescuing them from responsibility for leadership today? Or should we remember next year where they were this year? And is anyone of the R side running for governor? Helloooo? The silence deafens. Responding to this leadership void the governor organized an exploratory committee meeting at Geronimo's for his friend Val Kilmer. The guv may be far more subdued these days, but he's not brain dead and he knows the importance of action when others have their heads in the sand. Remnants of the old hang on; new leaders fumble; and the public grows restless.

Hector Balderas, the state auditor who hoped a few weeks ago to be presiding over the Senate today (seems like eons ago, right?), recently issued a report, commissioned by the legislature, on Smiley Gallegos' use of state and federal monies in Regional Housing Authorities 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7. At a press conference he declared the Gallegos enterprise represented "a colossal failure to low-income citizens and the state of New Mexico," and sent the results to law enforcement officials. Now Frances Williams, the plucky lady who blew the whistle on many of Gallegos' operations, in a forthcoming article to be published in the Haussamen blog, will assert that the auditor's work was poorly done, with numerous factual mistakes, omissions, and failure to do serious research to connect the dots which, she asserts, are there to be connected. The work by Balderas was hired out, but the report was not signed by anyone, including Balderas.

On a brighter note, who could resist an "attagirl" when Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones let the webcam roll in her tax and rev committee hearing in spite of somber warnings against it by House leadership, and two requests by the committee chairman to stop the broadcast even as it was rolling? Especially since the Senate had already dismantled the webcam system authorized last year to broadcast its floor sessions? Powerful House leaders muttered dire warnings against "disrupting" committee hearings (which are regularly televised nationally in Congress) or (heaven forbid) the possibility that webcasts might be used for "partisan" purposes. Partisan purposes? In our legislature? We're shocked! Shocked! Remnants of the old hang on; new leaders fumble and--thank you, Janice--the public is watching.

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