Inside the Capitol

Thursday, November 09, 2006

11-10 Happy New Mexicans

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Voter anger was the cause of the big switch in Congress, we are told over and over. But New Mexicans were a much happier group of voters.
We decided not to change much of anything, reelecting incumbents up and down the ballot and approving all the state constitutional amendments and bond issues.
The Land of Enchantment wasn't quite as good a bellwether in this election as in most. We returned our U.S. senator with 70 percent of the vote. We gave our governor a whopping 68 percent. We returned our three U.S. House members, made no changes in party control of statewide offices and dismissed one incumbent from each party in the state House.
The biggest surprise may have been easy approval of all four constitutional amendment proposals. The conventional wisdom is that voters tend to reject any amendment they don't understand. But these amendments were not easy to understand, especially from their explanations on the ballot. And none of them really needed to be on the ballot in the first place.
New Mexicans also were enchanted with the three statewide bond issues, approving them by comfortable margins. It seemed nothing could get us angry.
Our two Republicans in Congress had more trouble than usual. Rep. Steve Pearce polled 60 percent of the vote down south, while Democrat Rep. Tom Udall won with 73 percent of the vote in the north. But it was the 1st Congressional District that saw the real action.
Rep. Heather Wilson, accustomed to winning by 8 to 10 percent margins, appears to have squeaked through by less than one percent. But she managed to escape from being kicked out by voters as more than 30 of her Republican congressional colleagues did.
Gov. Bill Richardson absolutely smashed the old record of a 60.2 percent showing by Gov. Jack Campbell in 1964. Richardson finished with 68 percent of the vote to challenger John Dendahl's 32 percent.
Political watchers normally figure that any statewide Republican or Democratic candidate should be able to attract about 28 percent of the vote just by being on the ballot. That's about the percentage of straight-ticket voters in both parties.
So Dendahl's name, reputation and campaign effort netted him about four percent more of the vote.
Richardson predicted about a week before the election that he would sweep every county but Catron. It sounded like an unattainable boast at the time, but it appears that he has backed it up. That's another record.
State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons, a Republican, retained his post for a second term over Democrat Jim Baca. A former land commissioner, Baca had a reputation for winning tough races in which he was outspent. But voters were very happy with the job Lyons has been doing.
The other statewide offices all changed hands due to term limitations but all stayed in Democratic Party hands. Heavy spending by the GOP in the secretary of state and attorney general contests couldn't put its candidates over the top.
One of the best showings by a Republican statewide candidate was auditor candidate Lorenzo Garcia's 46 percent showing. Had he received the financial assistance that went into the attorney general and secretary of state races, Garcia might have pulled it out.
The state Legislature will look much the same. Republicans took out Rep. Don Whitaker down in Lea County. Democrats countered by beating Rep. Terry Marquardt in Alamogordo. Whitaker was chairman of the powerful House Taxation and Revenue Committee. Marquardt was House Republican whip.
In Dona Ana County Democrat Jeff Steinborn won an open seat formerly held by Republican Ed Boykin.
With the retirement of Republican House floor leader, Rep. Ted Hobbs, of Albuquerque, and Marquardt's loss, the top two spots in the House Republican leadership will be up for grabs. That's about the biggest change in state government that we are looking at, this year.
FRI, 11-10-08

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



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