Inside the Capitol

Monday, November 12, 2007

11-14 A Reprise of the Four Freshmen


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- What's wrong with the Four Freshmen? They were a great vocal group. More than one of my high school girlfriends back in the '50s swooned over them.

      But if you happen to be talking about 80 percent of New Mexico's congressional delegation, that's another matter. We're going to have trouble fighting for our share with that sort of representation..

      Not since statehood will New Mexico ever have had a congressional delegation so green. With Rep. Tom Udall's decision to join Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce in taking a shot at the seat being vacated by Sen. Pete Domenici, New Mexico is assured of having a new senator and three new members of the House.

      All four vow that they will continue to work vigorously during the remaining year in their terms to represent New Mexico, but the three House members face tough primaries next spring and an even tougher general election is in store for the winners.

      And let's not forget. The Four Freshmen will be preceded by the Four Lame Ducks. New Mexico's congressional delegation is weakened already.

      One can't criticize the three House members for their decision, however. Being a senator is much nicer than being in the House. The term is six years instead of two, meaning there actually is time to concentrate on issues rather than constantly being in campaign mode.

      And being in a group of 100 is much more comfortable than the House's 435. The Senate is more of a club. Senators live in Washington, enabling them to get to know each other and develop some working relationships. House members spend a good part of their week traveling to and from their districts.

      It wasn't too difficult to predict the GOP primary face off between Wilson and Pearce. The Democrat race was more of a surprise. Like Pearce, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez has eyed the 2010 gubernatorial contest. But when the Senate opportunity presented itself, it was difficult to take a pass on.

      Chavez has been a strong three-term mayor. The only mayor to be elected three times. He got beat up in the city's recent mid-term elections, but mid-terms usually are rough on chief executives.

   For Chavez, the timing of Sen. Domenici's retirement announcement couldn't have been worse. Polling data showed him to be weaker than he actually is. But also working against him is his statewide loss in the 1998 gubernatorial race.

   What Democrats were hoping and what I was predicting, was that Gov. Bill Richardson would decide to run for the Senate. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's decision not to jump into the Senate race appeared to be an indication Richardson still was thinking about it.

   Then when Richardson insiders began telling top Democrat donors to "keep their powder day" when Chavez announced his finance committee, it appeared our governor was headed for the Senate race.

   But maybe he was wanting his big donors to wait for Udall. As this column has previously advised, behind-the-scenes activity is intense at top levels of the national Democratic Party.

   Richardson may have received some assurances before his decision to stay in the presidential race. Udall must have received some before his decision to leave the House. And Richardson and Udall likely talked.

   Udall's departure from the House came as a blow to many New Mexicans who had hoped he could use his newly-gained position on the coveted House Appropriations Committee to wield some power for our state.

   It would have meant that along with Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman in the Senate, New Mexico would have some firm clout in both houses of Congress.

   But it won't happen. Filing day for federal offices in New Mexico is February 12. Anything could change before then. Gov. Richardson could still come back. But the die appears to be firmly cast. Further changes may be a hard sell to voters.

WED, 11-14-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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