Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

12-29 2006 Review

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico's 2006 started with a bang. Unfortunately the bang was thunderstorms over Pasadena, CA, where Gov. Bill Richardson and 50-some New Mexicans gathered on Jan. 1 to enter the state's first-ever float in the Rose Parade.
It was a soggy experience, but the guv deemed it good for New Mexico and said we'd return, not in 2007, because he had an inaugural ball to plan for that night. But in 2008, he'll still be running for something.
Back home, the state GOP could find only one, untested candidate to take on Gov. Richardson, who convened the Legislature, oozing charm and diplomacy. But all eyes were on the stars Virgin Galactic brought in to convince lawmakers New Mexico needs a spaceport.
By February, matters became worse for the state GOP. No one could be found to run for lieutenant governor. With only days before the deadline, Sen. Pete Domenici found a mid-term state senator with nothing to lose. And thus the dream team of Dr. Who? and Sen. What? was born.
The Legislature didn't give Gov. Richardson as much as he wanted this year, but he was nicer about it than usual. Governors who want to be president can't be seen fighting at home.
By March, Republicans had a full slate of statewide candidates. One race even had competition. And for good measure, Sen. Domenici announced his candidacy -- for 2008.
In April, Democrats were becoming very embarrassed by the trial of state Treasurer Robert Vigil. They had planned to run against the GOP's culture of corruption, which was working well nationally, but things were coming apart in New Mexico.
Not only did Democrats have to worry about Vigil, but former Treasurer Michael Montoya confessed and an ugly scenario involving construction of two Albuquerque courthouses was beginning to unfold.
In May, the first Vigil trial opened, amid charges the governor and Attorney General Patricia Madrid hadn't done enough to nab the treasurer earlier. But Republicans were having their own problems with Dr. Who? lost somewhere in a cloud of dust from Richardson's first $10 million of fundraising. A few wags began suggesting mercy killings for the two physicians Republicans put up for governor and U.S. senator.
In June, it happened. Reportedly at the hand of Sen. Pete Domenici. Dr. J.R. Damron quietly disappeared from the scene, replaced by known rabble-rouser John Dendahl as the GOP gubernatorial standard bearer.
Dendahl's campaign also disappeared into the summer doldrums. But Rep. Heather Wilson, who sensed her first real challenge from Democrat Patricia Madrid, cranked up her TV ads a full two months early. Wilson charged ahead. Her only competition in the news came from New Mexico Highlands President Manny Aragon, who was in trouble again.
August was full of political celebrities descending on the swing state of New Mexico, their light dimmed only by the demotion of our favorite planet Pluto to the minor leagues.
September saw our governor strengthen his international credentials with a mission to Sudan to rescue hostages, one of them from Columbus, NM.
By October, Gov. Richardson, at $14 million and counting, was so confident of reelection, he predicted he would win every county but Catron. Other pollsters were showing Patricia Madrid pulling ahead of Rep. Heather Wilson. Some were busily writing Wilson's political obituary.
November brought the nation's big Democratic landslide, along with huge victories for Gov. Richardson and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Rep. Wilson kept her seat by an eyelash, but had to settle for becoming a member of the minority party in Congress, along with her two other New Mexico Republican colleagues.
To end the year, southern New Mexicans learned they will have to become accustomed to a new area code. And we wonder whether Donald Rumsfeld will again become our northern New Mexico neighbor.
A happy new year to everyone
FRI, 12-29-06

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



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