Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

We vote like the nation, but it's pure luck.

SANTA FE – Rats, I didn’t get my letter into Sen. John Kerry before he appointed John Edwards as his running mate. Oh well, now I know he wouldn’t have appointed me anyway. But it also means that the world won’t know I was on the short list, even though it was kept very quiet.
I wonder why he chose the guy who stayed in the presidential primaries long after Kerry had asked him to bow out. President Bush never even considered choosing John McCain for vice president after McCain gave him such a battle. Of course, the president and Sen. McCain are really big buddies now that Kerry seemed to be pretty sweet on McCain for vice president.
Gov. Bill Richardson was awfully worried that no one believed him when he said he wouldn’t accept a vice-presidential selection. But it looked to me as though nearly everyone believed him. Six months ago, he was at or near the top of almost every list of smart picks for the short list. Since Richardson started saying that he would rather finish his term in New Mexico, he’s been dropping like a rock. Oh well, I guess he just wanted to be sure we New Mexicans know he likes us best.
One reason both Bush and Kerry like New Mexico so well is that we’re very important. During the July 4 weekend, they both prepared TV commercials only for New Mexico. That makes us pretty special. We’re what’s known as a swing state, or a battleground state. That means we almost always vote just like the nation as a whole does.
Some folks call New Mexico the perfect microcosm of the United States. But I think it’s more just luck. In reality, we aren’t like anyone else. Gov. Lew Wallace may have been the first to notice that – over 120 years ago. The way he put it was “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere, fails in New Mexico.”
You can probably tell that wasn’t meant to be a compliment. Wallace had won fame for his leadership as a Union general in the Civil War, so the president sent him out here to try to settle things down after the Santa Fe Ring, Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War had made a pretty big mess of the state.
But nothing Wallace did seemed to work. His wife, who spent most of her time back in Indiana, liked to quote another famous Civil War colleague of her husband. She’d say, “As Gen. Sherman puts it, the United States should declare war on Mexico again and make it take back New Mexico.” Guess you might say Gen Sherman was the first to notice we are pretty different and put it in words.
The words of Sherman and Wallace didn’t go unnoticed. Congress was aware that we were pretty different, so every time we would ask for admittance to the union, it would find some reason to turn us down.
Presidential candidates are said to be interested in us because we are very Hispanic and Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in the nation. The only problem is that our Hispanics are unlike any others in the nation. Instead of being recent immigrants, most of them come from families that have been here for centuries and don’t share many of the values of immigrants. In fact, they are about as anti-immigrant as anyone around.
Our Indians are different too. Most of the nation’s Indians are the urban variety, whose ancestors were decimated and their lands taken. In New Mexico, the Spanish conquerors learned to co-exist with the Indians, after suffering the consequences of a revolt, nearly a century before our nation’s founders pulled one off. Our Indians have retained their cultures and languages.
Somehow, when you factor in minorities that are more conservative than the nation’s, mix them with oil men and ranchers, left-wing environmentalists and leftover hippies, a Sun Belt boom town, some high tech suburbs and a big handful of rich Republican retirees, you get something that miraculously votes just like the nation.


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