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Predictions are a governor’s occupational hazard

January 16, 2019

Seldom has a politician been so wrong as New Mexico Gov. John E. Miles when he took his oath of office 80 years ago.

“The Land of Mañana, the Land of Poco Tiempo, is fast becoming the land of hurry and bustle,” he said.

Like most political speeches, Miles’ pep talk of 1939 didn’t hold up well.

New Mexico has slumbered regularly, especially for the last decade.

The rest of the region long ago recovered from the national recession that began in 2008. New Mexico has stagnated.

Its troubles are masked for the moment because of an oil boom that has put more money in the state government’s treasury.

This gives Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham breathing room. In office for two weeks, she gave her first State of the State address on Tuesday feeling secure enough.

She knows that paying the bills will be a routine occurrence rather than a daily adventure for the government she heads.

Only a couple of years ago, state legislators reclaimed money from many school districts just so the state could avoid writing hot checks to creditors.

Lujan Grisham knows the caprice of the oil industry turned in her favor. But she still gave a speech that ought to concern anyone who’s lived in New Mexico for more than a week.

Some of what she said reminded me of Miles’ pronouncement that the state had turned a corner.

“I believe this is an opportune moment,” Lujan Grisham said, “perhaps the greatest moment of opportunity in the history of this state, because we have the strength, and the vision and the willpower to deliver together. The state of our incredible state is enthusiastic, ambitious and ready.”

Lujan Grisham starts her term with the short-term advantage of financial stability but the same long-term burden every New Mexico governor has faced.

Pronouncements, no matter how much enthusiasm they’re delivered with, don’t change the entrenched economic structure. The state is overly dependent on oil and federal installations. When one or the other sags, downturns always follow.

Inside the Capitol, many people took on the role of political meteorologist. They said the climate improved immediately after Lujan Grisham replaced two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Martinez operated with a bunker mentality, isolating herself from Democratic legislators. Lujan Grisham knows the dangers of a failure to communicate.

“It’s very exciting. It’s a very different vibe,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, was just as optimistic.

“A new day,” said Stewart, a fierce critic of Martinez.

The House Republican Leader, Rep. James Townsend of Artesia, was more cautious.

He comes from the oil-producing section of the state, worked in the industry and learned that booms always end. Townsend said both Lujan Grisham and the Legislative Finance Committee have proposed excessive budgets of $7.1 billion and $7 billion, respectively.

State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, told me Tuesday he also is wary of those numbers. He said he expected proposals no higher than $6.9 billion.

Eichenberg remembers the nervous days not so long ago when revenues slid and he was haunted by the thought of issuing checks that might be double-dribbled.

Other critics were more outspoken than the elected officials.

About 20 members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation marched outside the Capitol during the governor’s speech, denouncing the powers that be.

For the socialists, the issue of the moment was a 50-year-old state law banning abortion in most cases. The law remains on the books, even though it was negated by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

The socialists worry that New Mexico’s old law could still have teeth if President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court alters Roe v. Wade. They are supporting New Mexico House Bill 51 to repeal the anti-abortion law as a hedge against what might happen in the Supreme Court.

Anger spilled over as the socialists criticized both major political parties for looking out for the favored.

“The basic needs of working-class people aren’t being met,” said Jose M. Enriquez, 30, a union carpenter from Albuquerque and a spokesman for the socialists.

He took a day off work to travel to the Capitol for the demonstration.

Enriquez didn’t know it, but Lujan Grisham’s supporters showered her with applause. Not everyone, though, is cheering — not with another governor predicting another breakthrough.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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