Inside the Capitol

Friday, July 22, 2005

7-27 Attorney General Race

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The Democrat race for state attorney general is beginning to fill up -- and with good reason. At this point, it is the best steppingstone to higher office.
It wasn't always that way. For the first 70 years of our statehood, no attorney general achieved higher office, although many tried. In the '60s and '70s, it was a big joke that the attorney general's post was a dead end job.
But in 1982, two former AGs won higher office, as Toney Anaya was elected governor and then-Attorney General Jeff Bingaman was elected to the U.S. Senate. And then in 1998, Attorney General Tom Udall was elected to Congress.
So at this point, the only two Democrats in New Mexico's congressional delegation stepped out of the attorney general's office and directly into Congress. That's pretty inspiring for an aspiring politician with a law degree.
None of the other minor statewide offices have been good proving grounds for governor or Congress. Even lieutenant governors have not had much luck moving up.
In 1962, Lt. Gov. Tom Bolack became governor for a month when Gov. Ed Mechem resigned, following the death of U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez. Bolack then appointed Mechem to Chavez's seat. Lt. Govs. Washington Lindsay and Andrew Hockenhull succeeded governors upon their deaths in the early days of our state. But neither one was able to win election on his own.
The only lieutenant governor in our history to be elected to higher office was Joe Montoya, who won a special election upon the death of U.S. Rep. Antonio Fernandez. Montoya was elected to three more terms as a U.S. representative and three terms as a U.S. senator.
Democrat lawyers looking at the attorney general post are Rep. Al Park of Albuquerque, Geno Zamora of Santa Fe, Lemuel Martinez of Grants and Eric Sedillo Jeffries of Albuquerque.
Park jumped into the race first, assembled a staff and is campaigning hard. Geno Zamora served as chief counsel to Gov. Bill Richardson. In that post, he provided legal and policy advice to the governor and his staff and served as liaison to the Attorney General's Office and the Administrative Office of the Courts. He now is with the Arizona-based firm of Gallagher and Kennedy, which has an office in Santa Fe.
Lemeul Martinez is district attorney for the 13th Judicial District, which covers Cibola, Sandoval and Valencia counties. Eric Sedillo Jefferies has worked as a prosecutor for Taos and Bernalillo counties and as an assistant state attorney general. He is a partner in the firm of Jeffries, Rugge and Rosales.
Other Democrats have expressed interest the AG race and some are likely to jump in by October when petitions for office become available.
Democrats who have expressed an interest include former state Rep. Gary King, who has races for governor and Congress under his belt. Although unsuccessful in those endeavors, King has built up many contacts throughout the state.
Rep. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat is often mentioned as is state Democratic Party Executive Director John Wertheim.
On the Republican side, many names are mentioned but only one, Bob Schwartz, has admitted he is interested. The former Bernalillo County district attorney is crime adviser to Gov. Bill Richardson, which won't help him in a Republican primary.
Schwartz counters that crime is bipartisan. "You get very few people who ask about your voter registration before they mug you," he says.
As you might guess, Schwartz is a part time comedian. He's also a former Democrat and ran for Albuquerque mayor in 2001. He came in second in a race, in which Republicans endorsed another candidate because Schwartz wasn't conservative enough.
Current Attorney General Patricia Madrid can't run for that office again next year. But she has positioned herself to be in good shape for a run at higher office, whatever that might be.
WED, 7-27-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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