Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

2-23 Farewells to Pfeffer and Dendahl

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- So long, farewell, auf wiederschoen, adieu. GOP candidates shouldn't take losing so hard. It's something that happens often in New Mexico.
This year former candidates for two top-ballot positions last year have packed up and moved out of state. David Pfeffer, an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in last June's GOP primary, has taken a job with a large architectural firm in Chicago. And Gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl has headed to Denver.
Both these guys were from Santa Fe, which is pretty depressing for a Republican, but both lost in statewide races so we can't blame it all on our Capital City.
Pfeffer served a term on the Santa Fe City Council. He began as a Democrat but soon realized he was far to the right of the rest of the body. A veteran of Vietnam and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, he supported President Bush's invasion of Iraq. In 2004, still a Democrat, he endorsed the president for re-election.
Soon after, he changed his registration to Republican and began a campaign for Jeff Bingaman's U.S. Senate seat. He was the guy who hiked New Mexico's border with Mexico to demonstrate his strong feelings about illegal immigration.
Pfeffer spent over $10,000 of his own money on the campaign, won by Dr. Allen McCulloch of Farmington. It then became necessary to move to the big city and make some real money.
The sudden departure of John Dendahl was much more unexpected. Proud of his long New Mexico heritage, going back several generations well into the 1800s, Dendahl contrasted himself with Gov. Richardson, a relative newcomer.
The last thing anyone would have expected was to see him leave the state. What happened? John was bitterly disappointed by his 38-point drubbing at the hands of Richardson.
An articulate debater with a lightening fast mind, he had expected the campaign to be fun. He relished the thought of knocking Richardson around in debates across the state.
But Richardson knew that. And he knew he didn't have to debate Dendahl in order to win. So Richardson ignored him. So did potential contributors. People Dendahl had hit up before on behalf of other candidates, ran and hid.
Dendahl says they told him that Richardson would punish them if they contributed to him. That may be true, but it also could be true that those potential donors might have found it easier to blame Richardson than to tell Dendahl he didn't have a chance and they didn't want to throw away their money.
It isn't hard to find big contributors to Richardson who enjoyed favors from him. Part of the reason for that is that he had almost everyone in New Mexico contributing to his kitty -- Republican and Democrat.
Dendahl saw this as blatant corruption. And his landslide loss, he saw as evidence the people of New Mexico accept that corruption. So, blaming the voters, he said he couldn't stay longer in such a state.
It is reported that many Republicans volunteered to escort their former state chairman to the border. The bullying tactics he accused Richardson of employing, he also exercised on dissident Republicans, sometimes finding candidates to run against them.
It will be quieter in New Mexico without John, especially in Republican politics, although he did much for the party as its chairman for eight years.
But he also was involved in frequent mischief, the most recent being his surprise move into the GOP gubernatorial candidate slot after last June's primary. It must not have been mostly his doing and not anything organized at a very high level because Dendahl received precious little campaign assistance from the state or national party for his candidacy.
Dendahl's departure will be felt by many. He was a personal friend of mine, in addition to being a great source of material for columns. But he also will be missed for what he added to the political conversation in New Mexico. His provocative arguments definitely got people thinking.
FRI, 2-23-07

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



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