2-20 It's Great to Be a Senator
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- It's great to be a New Mexico state senator. They all have four-year terms and halfway through that term they don't have to run for reelection, as House members do.
Not coincidently, during the election in which they don't have to protect their seat, all state officials are running for office. That means all 42 senators can take a free shot at higher office and still hold onto their Senate seat if they do not win.
Usually they don't win, possibly because they feel too comfortable knowing they'll still hold public office, win or lose. The two senators seeking higher office this campaign season give some indication of being in that category.
Sen. Sue Wilson-Beffort of Albuquerque announced for office eight days before the Feb. 14 filing day. Sen. Joe Carraro, also of Albuquerque, waited until the day before the filing date.
Wilson-Beffort is running for lieutenant governor. Her late entry occurred only because the state GOP had a very tough time finding anyone to fill out its gubernatorial ticket. She's guaranteed a primary election victory and will be a welcome addition to the Republican ticket.
She is intelligent, articulate and a hard worker. The chances of winning against the powerful Richardson/Denish ticket are slim but Wilson-Beffort will carry her party's message well and likely will engage in some of the attack-dog activities that have come to be the role of lieutenant governor and vice presidential candidates.
How well her running mate, Dr. J.R. Damron of Santa Fe, will carry the GOP message is still to be seen. Party leaders have worried about his newness to public speaking. Some party members report being disappointed by his presentations.
There is no problem with U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carraro's presentations. A longtime veteran of both houses of the New Mexico Legislature, Carraro is an able speaker on any subject and loves taking the microphone during New Mexico's version of filibusters.
This isn't the first time Carraro has taken a shot at Congress. He usually gets in late and is underfunded. But one can never tell when the year might come that everything clicks.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has not targeted this contest. Incumbent Sen. Jeff Bingaman typically wins by 16 points or so and enjoys a high job approval rating. But New Mexico became a red state in the last presidential election, so Republicans can always hope Jeff could be knocked off.
Carraro says that now he is in the race, national Republicans will take another look. He has recruited former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp to be his national finance chairman. That has to help the likable, straight-spoken Carraro.
But the GOP leadership's favorite in the race appears to be Farmington urologist Allen McCulloch, a political newcomer who has already raised $140,000 for his campaign. Medical doctors have done well in politics recently and state GOP leaders seem to like the possibility of having two of them head the state Republican ticket.
Sen. Cynthia Nava of Dona Ana County may be another state senator to try for higher office. She reportedly has her eyes on the Public Regulation Commission seat currently held by the embattled Shirley Baca of Las Cruces. Filing day for those positions doesn't roll around until March 21.
The PRC has five members, elected by districts, who regulate public utilities, insurance companies and other corporations. Nava serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee and is well-respected in the state's second most populous county.
While it's great to be a senator this year, it's no fun to be a House member. Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, the legislature's top fiscal authority, must give up his seat in order to be a candidate for state treasurer.
Varela faces tough Democratic primary opposition from former state Treasurer James Lewis. If Varela loses, he will be completely out of politics -- for the time at least.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org