11-28 Thundering Herd of State Job Seekers
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- An amusing sidelight to Gov. Bill Richardson's recent erroneous death report was the long line of job seekers that quickly formed at the door of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.
My favorite blogger, Joe Monahan, reports that the line disappeared as quickly as it formed upon the first news that the airplane crash rumor had been quashed.
The episode is more than just a funny story. It is illustrative of the interface between government and politics. Until the early 1960s, state government operated on the spoils system. Each governor cleaned house and brought in his cronies for all government jobs, top to bottom.
Gov. Jack Campbell was able to get a state Personnel Act passed that required government employees to be qualified and provided them with some job security.
The top jobs in government were left out of the personnel system so the governor could bring in a leadership team. But those were supposed to be the only ones who still had to jockey for jobs. And that is almost the way it works.
But who you know still ranks right up there with what you know. In the old days, the line outside Lt. Gov. Denish's office would not have been the least unusual.
In fact, it wouldn't have been a line. It would have been a mob that would have included everyone in and out of state government who had heard the rumor that the lieutenant governor was about to move up.
Today, the mobs of job seekers have been reduced considerably. But there is still a network of state employees and wannabe state employees angling for classified jobs covered by the personnel system.
Yes, they have to be qualified, but there are more applicants than jobs and a recommendation from the top makes a big difference. And that network of job seekers works at lightening speed.
This isn't the first time Diane Denish has experienced a line up at her door. In the 1994 Democratic primary election, she and now-Attorney General Patricia Madrid were fighting it out for the lieutenant governor nomination. Madrid was ahead in early returns that night.
Most Democrat candidates were gathered at the Albuquerque Hilton Inn to listen to returns in their hospitality rooms. I happened to have just made a stop at Denish's suite, when Dick Knipfing announced on television that a new batch of returns had changed some of the close races, including the lieutenant governor race.
It was only a matter of moments before the nearly deserted room was packed with small-time politicos assuring Denish that it was the work they had done back in their precincts that had put her ahead.
On the television, Knipfing and analyst Chris Garcia were scratching their heads, while a reporter interviewed Gary Johnson at the Marriott Hotel. Johnson had fallen behind too, but said his reports from the county in question were nowhere near what had just been reported to the state Bureau of Elections.
Soon the figures were double-checked, the glitch was found and the numbers were corrected. As soon as Knipfing reported the change, the Denish suite emptied. It was obvious what was happening.
I followed the crowd at a safe distance to prevent being trampled but arrived in plenty of time to hear the same people telling Patricia Madrid the same stories they had just told down the hall.
Of course candidates aren't fooled. They know it is part of the ritual. The routine will start in this election cycle at the pre-primary nominating conventions that the major parties will hold in March.
Lieutenant governors aren't really the prime targets of job seekers. They have very few employees -- until it appears they are poised to become governor.
As for Denish and Madrid, they will continue to be major targets of job seekers no matter what office they are seeking because both have served notice that they are candidates on the rise.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) email@example.com