Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

5-23 The Power of Dad

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- All four of New Mexico's congressional races this year have candidates who owe some of their political stroke to their fathers.
New Mexico already is unique for having all of its federal elective offices vacant for the 2008 election. It also is unique for having a candidate in each of the four races with strong family ties to politics.
This column would work well as a Fathers Day tribute but that occurs after the June 3 primary election and Dad's help might not be enough to get all of them through.
In the U.S. Senate race Democrat Tom Udall comes from a family dynasty in Western politics that has held high elective posts for five generations.
Arizona has been electing Udalls to various public offices since the late 1800s. Currently three members of the Udall family are in Congress. Tom is a New Mexico representative. Mark is a Colorado representative. And Gordon Smith is a Republican senator from Oregon.
Tom and Mark both hope to join Gordon in the Senate next year. Both of their fathers represented Arizona in the U.S. House. Tom's father Stewart went on to be Secretary of the Interior Department during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Mark's father, "Mo," ran for president in 1976.
Last week Stewart endorsed Ben Ray Lujan for the House seat Tom is vacating. As a candidate himself, Tom couldn't make an endorsement but his father, who lives next door, could. That endorsement may be important to Tom's Senate race. He needs a big Hispanic turnout in the north.
In the 1st Congressional District, Democrat Michelle L. Grisham has gone to court to obtain permission to place her full middle name, which is Lujan, on the ballot. She isn't a relative of the Lujans in the 3rd Congressional District, but her father, a retired Santa Fe dentist, is a member of the Manuel Lujan family. Manuel represented the 1st District, as a Republican, for 20 years.
In the 2nd Congressional District, the father of Republican Aubrey Dunn, Jr. was a powerful member of the state Senate representing Otero County. He also was in the newspaper business.
Aubrey, Sr. was a Democrat, but a typical southern Democrat, who was as conservative as most Republicans. He ran for governor in 1982 and was defeated by former Attorney General Toney Anaya. He was a bit too conservative to win a statewide Democratic primary but had he gotten past that hurdle, he could have been elected governor.
The fact that Dad was a Democrat won't help Aubrey, Jr. in a southern New Mexico Republican primary. For various reasons, many Democrats in that congressional district have opted not to switch their party registration even though they vote Republican in the general election. The district still has one-third more Democrats than Republicans.
But Dad's name recognition and outstanding reputation will help, especially in Alamogordo and surrounding areas.
In the 3rd Congressional District, Public Regulation Commission chairman Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat, is receiving significant help from his father, House Speaker Ben Lujan.
Ben Lujan has helped his son with raising a sizable war chest. He might have helped scare some strong candidates out of the race soon after Udall announced he would be leaving the seat. And some think he may have helped gain Ben Ray some influential endorsements.
Having help from Speaker Lujan, one of New Mexico's most influential politicians, likely would come in handy if Ben Ray were to win the primary.
Two of the most important jobs of a 3rd District member of Congress is to assure the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis are treated well. During crises such as both installations have recently experienced, it took every connection our congressional delegation and state officials had to pull them through.
Families are important in our small state and it should be no surprise that they are playing a part in our congressional elections.
FRI, 5-23-08

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



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