Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Northern PRC Race Could Surprise

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- As our state and nation grow, politics seems to be more and more a family business. One would think it would be the other way around.
Northern New Mexico has two prime examples in the coming general election. Ben Ray Lujan, son of state House Speaker Ben Lujan, is the favorite to win a seat in Congress. And Jerome Block, Jr. is seeking a seat on the Public Regulation Commission, held by his father prior to the incumbent, Ben Ray Lujan.
We've covered the congressional race earlier but we haven't told you about the PRC contest. Six candidates vied for the Democratic nomination in the June primary. The field included some strong and well-qualified candidates to replace Ben Ray Lujan.
Many were a little surprised when Jerome Block, Jr. emerged as the winner. And many were even more surprised when the media began pulling skeletons out of young Block's closet.
He appeared to have been misleading in several representations he had made during his primary campaign. And quite a few Democrats claimed that they thought they were voting for Jerome Block, Sr., the father of the candidate.
The state Republican Party had not been able to recruit a candidate in that race. The district is heavily Democratic, encompassing most of northern New Mexico, so Republicans sometimes don't try. This time, they are sorry.
But the Green Party, once again a minor party, got to wait until after the primaries to decide on their candidates. By that time news of Block, Jr.'s legal entanglements was becoming public knowledge, so the Green nominating convention asked Rick Lass if he would run.
Lass has run for office before and had been managing Carol Miller's independent candidacy for Congress. He agreed and quickly began picking up support.
A group of disaffected Democrats began collecting money to pay for ads for Lass. They can't give the money to him because the PRC is a trial balloon for public financing of campaigns.. Each candidate receives about $64,000.
At times the state Republican party has helped the Green Party. There is no evidence of them doing it this time but many Republicans are likely to vote for Lass, along with quite a few Democrats.
Gov. Bill Richardson, titular head of the state Democratic Party, is not pleased with Block, Jr. The governor has called him in for a talk. Some expected an outcome similar to two years ago when Richardson pressured Jeff Armijo, the winner of the state auditor primary election, to step aside because of legal charges.
But Block, Jr. stayed in the race, with the governor issuing a statement that the candidate would have to explain the new revelations to voters.
Since then, Block, Jr. hasn't seemed particularly eager to appear before voters in forums where he might have to answer questions. He also has rejected any debates with Lass.
No public polls have been conducted on this race so we may have to wait until the November 4 general election to know if, and how much, Block, Jr. may be hurt by his lack of candor. At times, Greens have done moderately well in down-ballot state races, when no Republican is in the contest.
And many will remember when Republican Bill Redmond beat Democrat Eric Serna in a special congressional election to replace Rep. Bill Richardson, who had been appointed ambassador to the United Nations. It is possible, although not likely, for a Democrat to lose the North if fellow Democrats are uneasy with their nominee.
There is one other race this year for the five-member PRC, which pays $90,000 a year. That one is in Albuquerque between Democrat incumbent Jason Marks and Republican Tim Cummins, a former Albuquerque city councilor.
It is a close, hard-fought contest, but with nowhere near the controversy and public interest of the northern district race.
MON, 9-22-08

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



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