Inside the Capitol

Monday, June 02, 2008

6-4 A NM Primary Like No Others

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Congratulations to yesterday's winners. You have a big job ahead of you. From experience, I can say that being an elected public official takes a bigger chunk out of your life than anyone ever tells you before you serve.
And to those who didn't win, don't be discouraged. A loss doesn't end a political career. Pete Domenici lost a race for governor before being elected six times to the U.S. Senate. Joe Skeen liked to talk about losing seven races before winning a few ant then taking his U.S. House seat 11 times.
Gov. Bill Richardson lost his first run for Congress before starting a long political career. Rep. Tom Udall lost his first bid for Congress also. And Lt. Gov. Diane Denish lost her first bid for that office.
You have the advantage on me today. You know who won yesterday and I wrote this column the day before yesterday. But herewith are some observations on the politics of the past six months.
New Mexico's three open seats in Congress attracted 23 candidates. Oddly, that isn't a record. In 1972, when Pete Domenici first was elected to the U.S. Senate, a court had just struck down filing fees and the Legislature had not yet had the opportunity to establish nominating petition requirements.
That was the infamous "Sparkle Plenty" year, when a table of lobbyists at the Bull Ring Restaurant, next to the Capitol, filed paperwork to put their barmaid on the ballot.
But this was a record for a year with petition requirements and a pre-primary nominating convention. Failure to achieve ballot status from the conventions wasn't much of a discouragement this year. Almost half the major party candidates on the ballot secured additional signatures to get there.
Lack of experience in elective office wasn't a deterrent to candidates either. Twelve of the 21 major party candidates were hoping to start at the top. Add to that the two independent candidates who plan to file in the 3rd Congressional District general election contest.
In that wild 2nd Congressional District GOP contest, two of the three top contenders had no previous experience in elective office and the third had to get extra nominating petition signatures because he didn't get the necessary 20 percent of the vote at the preprimary nominating convention.
With all three of New Mexico's U.S. House seats and one of two U.S. Senate seats having no incumbent this year, the political stakes were higher than they ever have been. In an almost evenly divided Congress, New Mexico's open seats are crucial in determining the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats.
For that reason, political parties and party leaders got much more involved in their primary elections. The GOP endorsed 1st Congressional District candidate Darren White and President George W. Bush came to help him raise money even though White had an opponent on the ballot.
Gov. Bill Richardson made endorsements in the 2nd and 3rd district congressional races. Richardson's endorsement of Ben Ray Lujan in the 3rd Congressional District wasn't a huge surprise since Lujan's father is speaker of the New Mexico House and Richardson's closest political ally.
But the endorsement of Harry Teague in the 2nd Congressional District was a surprise. Both Teague and his Democrat opponent Bill McCamley have experience serving on county commissions. McCamley is young and articulate. Teague has lots of money.
That may be the difference. The Republican candidate will be very well financed and maybe this evens that score. Teague also had the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish who hails from Lea County, as does Teague.
Richardson and Denish have not been on the best of terms lately. Might part of the reason for this have been to extend an olive branch from the governor?
And there were Sen. Pete Domenici's endorsements for Darren White, Marco Gonzales and finally, Heather Wilson.
It was a primary such as New Mexicans had never seen before.

WED, 6-04-08

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



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