Inside the Capitol

Saturday, January 14, 2006

1-18 State Races Shaping Up

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Several political races have changed dramatically since we last talked about the 2006 lineup of primary and general election contests.
With less than a month remaining before the Feb. 14 filing day for statewide and congressional candidates, nearly all races are beginning to firm up.
Gov. Bill Richardson, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman will have little to worry about. Neither will U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce and Tom Udall. All will have general election opposition because both parties figure it best to keep the incumbents busy so they don't spend too much time helping out other candidates.
The biggest race on the card will be in the 1st Congressional District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson will be challenged by Democrat Attorney General Patricia Madrid. The race also will be watched closely on the national level and is sure to draw big bucks from out of state.
Democrats have always been able to find strong opponents for Wilson even though she keeps trouncing all comers. Madrid should be her best challenger yet. It's a fight that many in the political world have been itching to witness for years and it is sure to get extremely dirty.
How can Democrats control the Albuquerque mayor's office and yet never win the congressional seat? It's a question that has had the party fielding strong candidates in almost every election for the 34 years that the seat has existed.
This year, the race is seen as a possible bellwether to indicate whether congressional scandals and the war are likely to have an effect on Republican majorities in Congress. Look for more polling in that race than ever before.
Another heavy-duty race that has just shaped up is the contest for state land commissioner. The Democratic primary features two former two-term commissioners, Ray Powell, Jr. and Jim Baca. Baca's entry into the race appears to have scared out any small-timers who were considering a run.
The winner will go up against Republican incumbent Patrick Lyons. Regardless of Lyons' opponent, it will be the classic match up between agriculture and environmentalists, which usually are pretty close races.
Baca already is running against Lyons, complaining about his use of $150,000 of state money to feature himself in television ads.
Sometimes Lyons sounds more like the state school superintendent, talking about how he's doing it all for the children. Baca has turned that around and is accusing Lyons of using money that otherwise could have gone to school children.
The Democratic primary for state treasurer also features a heavyweight contest between former state treasurer James Lewis and current state Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela.
Lewis is respected for his quiet competence. He is accustomed to cleaning up messy situations during his numerous roles in local, state and federal government.
The Roswell native has been Bernalillo County treasurer, chief administrative officer for Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, chief of staff for Gov. Bruce King and an assistant to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Varela is respected for his financial expertise. After retiring from state government, where he worked in financial control for the Department of Finance and Administration, he served 20 years in the Legislature as a leader on the House Appropriations Committee and the Legislative Finance Committee.
Varela's entrance into the treasurer's race chased out some smaller fish, encouraged by Democratic Party leaders to make their exit. But Lewis is not a small fish, making the Democratic primary in the treasurer's contest a big time battle.
The Democrat auditor's primary also will feature a lively race between Jeff Armijo, 35, a second cousin of Mayor Martin Chavez, and former bank examiner Tom Buckner, 64, of Rio Rancho. Buckner currently serves as deputy superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department.
WED, 1-18-06

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



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