Inside the Capitol

Saturday, January 13, 2007

1-19 GOP Gets House in Order

SANTA FE -- While Democrats have been reveling in their victories, the state GOP has been working quietly to put its house in order for 2008.
Often controversial executive director Marta Kramer has departed, but could resurface later in a New Mexico campaign. Also departing is public relations spokesman Jonah Cohen, who is headed for a private school history teaching position in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The staff departures are seen as an attempt to pacify those who were calling for a change in party direction. For awhile, at least a half dozen names were floating around as possible candidates to replace state GOP Chairman Allen Weh.
But suddenly Weh announced that he will run again for chairman in the spring. Following that announcement, all his likely competitors surprisingly fell silent.
What happened? Likely, party powerhouse, Sen. Pete Domenici, decided the state party needed some stability leading into the 2008 elections when both he and the GOP presidential candidate will be running. Domenici also is sure to have realized that divisions within the party needed healing, thus, the departures of Kramer and Cohen.
Quiet control of a state party by its top elected official is not unusual. In the Democratic Party it is commonly the governor -- when he's a Democrat. When Republican Gary Johnson was governor, Rep. Bill Richardson and Sen. Jeff Bingaman shared the honor. When Rep. Manuel Lujan represented New Mexico in Congress, he and Domenici shared the power.
Weh took over the reins of the state GOP in April 2004, replacing Ramsay Gorham who was ousted mid-term by an opposing party faction. Weh was to be a caretaker for a year, serving mainly as a figurehead and fund raiser, but then he was elected to a term of his own in the spring of 2005.
Weh worked hard as a fund raiser and didn't alienate fellow Republicans the way Kramer did. So now it appears he will fill the roll of providing stability, while the departure of top staff members will serve as the change of direction. Now we'll see if some of those with complaints, such as state Sen. Joe Carraro, will be happy with the new structure.
Carraro was a candidate in the U.S. Senate primary last June. He felt that Kramer and the party were supporting the eventual winner of the nomination, Dr. Allen McCulloch, of Farmington. Carraro blamed the favoritism on Kramer and was calling for her head until she departed.
Kramer is gone but the faction of the party she was supporting still is strong so Weh and the new staff members will have their jobs cut out for them. One question will be whether to hire from within New Mexico, where the staff might already be aligned with a party faction or to bring in fresh faces from outside.
Sen. Domenici will be watching closely, along with Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce. Weh's success in hiring new staff is sure to have a bearing on whether other candidates jump into the race for party chairman next spring.
Some of the names floating around have been Bernalillo County GOP Chairman Fernando C de Baca, Truth or Consequences rancher Earl Greer, Roswell oilman Mark Murphy, Albuquerque attorney Jim Bibb and even Santa Fe physician J.R. Damron.
One problem it appears Weh won't have to face this month is a Democrat bill in the state Legislature to redistrict New Mexico's three congressional seats four years early to give Democrats a better shot at winning two of the seats instead of one.
Albuquerque Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino floated the idea following Rep. Heather Wilson's razor-thin victory in November's 1st Congressional District race. But Gov. Bill Richardson said he would prefer not to have such a controversial topic dominate this legislative session.
Remember when Texas Republicans did that and Senate Democrats from our neighboring state paid a month-long visit to New Mexico a few years ago?

This will be the last column for next week. The next column will be 1-24.


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