COLUMN: A look ahead

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Happy 2009. Let’s see what we can do about attempting some predictions for a new year.

2008 was as unpredictable as years ever get. 2009 will be just as capricious because we’ll be living with the results of last year’s craziness.

President Barack Obama will be neither a savior nor the end of the world. He will disappoint those whose expectations were too high and produce some begrudging acceptances from those who harbored great suspicion.

The economy won’t be turned around anytime soon. Patterning a recovery after the Great Depression won’t help much because today’s world is infinitely more complicated and interdependent.

New Mexico faces the challenge of having four-fifths of our congressional delegation replacing old pros. The trick will be in keeping the consequences as minimal as possible. There some good signs.

Sen. Tom Udall is a veteran of the lower house. He knows the Hill from family ties and from friendships forged while living in Washington as a member of the House.

Reps. Harry Teague and Martin Heinrich won House seats long held by Republicans. Because they are sure to face tough opposition in two years, they are likely to receive better committee assignments and more help with legislation than typical rookies.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan won’t have that help. He’ll have to rely on the ties that bind his father with Bill Richardson, who can help open some doors in Washington.

Gov. Richardson won’t be confirmed as quickly as the Democratic timetable anticipates. Senate Democrats plan to start confirmation hearings next week and have them ready for Senate floor votes a day or two after President Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

But the majority doesn’t always rule in the Senate. One senator can block a confirmation. Democrats won’t want to waste too much political capital on getting the fastest confirmations ever. It’s likely to be February before Gov. Bill leaves.

He won’t be back. It’s New Mexico in my rear view mirror for our soon-to-be former governor. Secretary of Commerce isn’t likely to be Richardson’s last job in an Obama administration.

The grand jury look into a possible pay-to-play scheme isn’t likely to hurt Richardson’s move onto the national stage. That jury was convened last August and has been looking at many items. The Obama team knew about the activity well before Richardson’s appointment.

As for Richardson’s New Mexico legacy, some of it will appear overly ambitious in light of the economic collapse. And some is likely to disappear during the upcoming legislative session.

The New Mexico Legislature will balance the state’s budget and it will accomplish the feat without a tax increase or dipping into the state’s rainy day accounts.

Despite their former leader, Manny Aragon, spending time in jail for misusing his office, the state Senate again will block any attempts at significant ethics reform. But it will have to change its excuse that it isn’t needed.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish eventually will become governor this year. She will be re-elected in 2010 with scant opposition. Val Kilmer won’t challenge her. Neither will Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez.

Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell will not find enough Democrats to form a coalition with Republicans to control the state Senate.

Despite claims to the contrary, Republicans will be back at the state and national levels. And they won’t have to change the name of their party philosophy as Democrats did when they became progressive instead of liberal.

Former House Republican whip Dan Foley, defeated in last June’s GOP primary, will also be back. But not in Roswell. Rio Rancho offers some real promise for a restart.

When she becomes governor this year, Diane Denish will appoint state Auditor Hector Balderas as her lieutenant governor. He’s a great balance for the ticket in terms of gender, ethnicity and locale. Of the suggested candidates, he’s the only one who has won a statewide race.

Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist in Santa Fe. He may be reached by e-mail to insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.