Inside the Capitol

Saturday, October 21, 2006

10-25 Can We Do Without Debates?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We wouldn't have learned much from a gubernatorial debate but we should have had one anyway.
GOP challenger John Dendahl would have gotten off all his witty one-line jabs at Gov. Bill Richardson. And in the process, Dendahl might have gotten a little too snarly as he has already with teachers and Hispanic legislators.
Gov. Richardson would have used his canned talking points and his canned responses to Dendahl's one-liners. We might have heard one more new proposal for what government can do for someone. And he might have slipped up somewhere.
But having a debate just to see if anyone self-destructs is like going to a car race hoping to see a good wreck. It doesn't add anything of value to the campaign or the sport.
Richardson maintained that debating Dendahl would be "a disservice to voters" because all Dendahl does is tear down New Mexico. KOB-TV in Albuquerque gave Dendahl the opportunity anyway with 25 minutes of airtime with its two evening anchors.
Dendahl didn't use his time to tear down New Mexico. He used it to tear down its governor. And Richardson wasn't there to defend himself. Dendahl thanked KOB for the opportunity. Anchor Carla Aragon replied, "It's a service to the voters," a fairly obvious response to Richardson's excuse for not debating.
Dendahl may have identified the major reason Richardson didn't want a televised debate. The governor wants to run for president and didn't want an hour of airtime for his 2008 opponents to use in campaign commercials.
But if Richardson does run for president, he is going to have to appear in many debates leading up to the primary election. This one could have helped him sharpen his skills against an intelligent, articulate and witty opponent.
Fortunately for Richardson, those are about the only arrows Dendahl has in his quiver. He has little money and a divided state Republican Party behind him. He has talked little about issues or about specific solutions to major state problems, so Richardson didn't have a lot to lose.
Dendahl sadly finds himself in much the same position as terrorists down through the ages. Incapable of winning a war but able to inflict great pain in guerrilla attacks.
Pardon the analogy for those of you who are sensitive to the subject. Remember that one side's terrorist is the other's patriotic freedom fighter. What do you think the British called out founding fathers?
Richardson seems afraid of Dendahl's guerrilla attacks. State Democratic Chairman John Wertheim used a basketball analogy and called them fouls. But the governor needs to become accustomed to drawing fouls if he wants to move up with the big boys.
Debates seemed to be Dendahl's main plan when he got into the governor's race. He said he was watching TV news one night with his wife, who said she'd love John to run for governor so she could watch them debate.
Short of debates and TV commercials, New Mexicans will have to go to Dendahl's Web site It has a series of about 20 video clips that possibly would have been Dendahl's TV ads if he had been able to raise money.
Check them out. They are interesting. Shot on the extreme cheap, the ads have no production value. It's just John sitting there in a blue open-collared shirt chatting. There is no script. John doesn't need one. He's pleasant enough to look at, enjoyable to listen to, and doesn't pound the viewer with an overly-dramatic message.
Some of Dendahl's messages are over the top such as when he claims New Mexico is "rotten to the core" because Democrats have run it for too long.
Otherwise, he doesn't tear down the state any more than Richardson did four years ago when he claimed New Mexico was first in everything bad and last in everything good. Dendahl says it still is.

WED, 10-25-06

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



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