Inside the Capitol

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Most Excellent Sir Tom Benavides

SANTA FE – Sir Tom Benavides is back on the political scene, and columnists such as I couldn’t be happier. In these days of bland politicians, who conduct polls to assure they don’t offend anyone, Benavides is pure fun.
He’s the guy with the distinctive eye patch, whom we can thank for pari-mutuel mule and ostrich racing and for the numerous Benavides County efforts. Ten years ago, Benavides was named to the order of King Alfonso X, the only U.S. citizen to be accorded such an honor, recognizing individuals who have advanced the Spanish culture.
Benavides began years ahead of time to promote New Mexico’s observation of the 1992 Columbus quincentennial celebration. During that period he made many contacts with the Spanish government and traveled to Spain.
It was during a reception for the Spanish Ambassador in Albuquerque that Benavides made an appearance when the State Police were looking for him to complete a call of the Senate. The following morning Benavides explained to the Senate that he actually had been in his Senate seat the previous evening, but he had had an out-of-body experience in Albuquerque.
Over the years, Benavides has won and lost a seat in the New Mexico House and twice won and lost a seat in the Senate, representing Albuquerque’s South Valley. He did all of this as a Democrat, but at one time he ran as an independent for Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s seat in the U.S. Senate. A few years ago there was talk of Benavides running as a Green. Now he is running as a Republican for the seat he lost to Sen. Linda Lopez eight years ago.
Republicans normally do very poorly in the South Valley, so Benavides probably won’t fare much better. His only hope for victory lies in the disenchantment of many Valley Democrats with what they feel is Lopez’s overambitious quest for power. She also is Bernalillo County chairwoman and is talking seriously about running for mayor of Albuquerque.
Disenchanted Democrats reportedly were looking for another Democrat to run against Lopez in the June primary, but she is unopposed. There is always the possibility some of these Democrats could support Benavides.
Benavides’ last fall from grace occurred eight years ago following the culmination of his six-year effort to establish a new county for the South Valley. Many residents of the area felt they had been short-changed by Bernalillo County. Wanting to attract attention to his effort, Benavides jokingly referred to the new county as Benavides County and even talked about county offices being housed in the compound he and his extended family call home.
The senator knew the new county would never be named after him because there were other senators, representatives and a county commissioner from the South Valley, but Tom was a master at knowing exactly what the media liked to cover and Benavides County fit the bill.
Sir Tom was successful on three occasions in passing a bill calling for a South Valley referendum on a new county. But Gov. King kept vetoing the measure, citing a lack of tax base in the new county. But when Gary Johnson challenged King’s bid for another term, Benavides threw in with Johnson and promised him South Valley support. Johnson won. Benavides got his bill through the Legislature once again. And Gov. Johnson signed it.
But there wasn’t a happy ending to the story. Benavides lost the 1996 primary to Linda Lopez and then in November, the referendum for a new county lost by a 4-1 margin. But Benavides wasn’t disturbed. That was only one of the many battles he has lost. The war is still to be won. “Just like Gen. Douglass Mac Arthur,” he said, “I’ll be back.”
Tom always did have a way with words. And besides, his Spanish award entitles him to be addressed as “The Most Excellent Sir Tom Benavides.” But maybe not in the South Valley.


Post a Comment

<< Home