Sen. Morales says this election altered NM politics for the worse
State Sen. Howie Morales, unchallenged today and sure of victory, nonetheless sees this election as the one that changed just about everything in New Mexico politics.
He said it made state legislative elections like those in national politics -- expensive, mean-spirited, built on attacks, bad enough to keep good people on the sidelines.
"The public is just so tired of it now," said Morales, D-Silver City.
Even so, he said, new ground rules and financial pressures had been established for state races.
"It's going to cost $100,000 to run for a House seat, more for Senate seats," which cover larger geographic areas, Morales said. "That's a lot of money for nonpaid positions."
Two sitting Democratic senators -- Majority Leader Michael Sanchez and President Pro Tem Tim Jennings -- were in the most bruising campaigns. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez unleashed her political committees -- and the big money they brought along -- to try to defeat them through negative ads.
Morales predicted that Sanchez and Jennings will win close races tonight. If they do, the Senate leadership will remain in place, eyeball to eyeball with a governor who is the archenemy.
That could mean gridlock for Martinez's legislative agenda. She can be unbending on her high-profile issues, such as her push to repeal a 2003 law that enables illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver licenses.
Martinez compromised on a bill to force retentions of students who do not read well. She first wanted to hold back third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students who were in the bottom tier on reading scores.
She streamlined the bill to focus only on third-graders. One reason was that numerous legislators said a forced retention of an eighth-grader probably would turn that student into a dropout.
Whether Martinez is willing to compromise more may depend on which candidates -- and which party -- has the better night.
But already Morales said he is looking ahead to 2013 and improving education, perhaps his greatest interest as a senator.
He has exposed holes in the governor's A-F grading system for public schools.
One of Martinez's top people in the Public Education Department, Paul Aguilar, said last spring that no more than five people in the entire state understood how the school grading system worked.
This was in response to questions from Morales and other legislators, who said the system was chaotic.
Morales said the concept of grading schools was all right, but in practice it had led to confusion and inconsistent standards.
Once the election is over, the wounds of the campaign may not heal. But the business of government will go on, and matters of policy will, until early 2014, generate more news than elections.
But, Morales said, after this year, state politics will never be the same.