Inside the Capitol

Thursday, November 13, 2008

11-17 Can NM's 3 New U.S. Reps Survive Reelection?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico's three new Democratic U.S. House members won election by solid margins. But can they all survive?
The representatives from Congressional Districts 1 and 2 took over seats that Democrats have not held in over 25 years. The 3rd Congressional District looks plenty safe for Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.
His most likely competition would likely come from another Democrat and that isn't probable as long as his father remains a power in state politics.
Freshman members of Congress are expected to sit on the back row and be seen, not heard. They are told not to expect any prime committee assignments until they accumulate some seniority.
But Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague might be able to expect a little better than that. Off-year elections normally don't go especially well for the administration in power. President-Elect Barack Obama's record in the next two years will have much to do with how Democrats from marginal districts fare in 2010.
But House Democrat leaders can provide help by giving some preferences to new members from shaky districts. Committee assignments will be the first order of business.
Assignments to committees with heavy impact on New Mexico, and the congressional district in particular, would be a big help. Keeping our national laboratories and military installations will be of prime importance.
Democrat leaders also can be of assistance in easing the way for bills introduced by Heinrich and Teague and seeing that they receive a nice share of pork projects for their districts.
Their predecessors, Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce both did well on committee assignments. Wilson landed the Armed Services Committee and Select Intelligence Committee.
Pearce was appointed to the Natural Resources Committee and during his second term advanced to chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee.
If Heinrich or Teague don't survive reelection to a second term, it will be unusual for New Mexico. Once elected to Congress, our senators and representatives typically stay as long as they want.
The only exceptions to an elected U.S. senator being reelected in the past 80 years have been when returning astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a Republican, beat Democrat Sen. Joe Montoya in 1976 and then was defeated by Jeff Bingaman in 1982.
Exceptions in the U.S. House in the past 55 years occurred in 1969, when Republican Ed Foreman won the Congressional District 2 House seat when it was created and then was beaten by Democrat Harold Runnels in 1971.
The other exception was in 1997 when Republican Bill Redmond won election to Rep. Bill Richardson's unexpired term when Richardson was appointed United Nations ambassador by President Bill Clinton. Redmond was then defeated by Democrat Tom Udall in 1999.
Another frequently asked question these days is whether Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would become the first lieutenant governor to move up to governor. The answer is that it hasn't happened in a long time. Two deaths early in our statehood moved up lieutenant governors who didn't win reelection.
If Denish successfully runs for governor in 2010, she will be only New Mexico's second lieutenant governor to ever to be elected governor.
Ezequiel C. de Baca was elected New Mexico's first lieutenant governor in 1912. In 1917, he was elected New Mexico's second governor but died only six weeks after being sworn in.
Is the lieutenant governor's office a political dead end? Yes, it has been. Many have tried. Lt. Gov. C. de Baca was the only one to succeed in moving up to governor. Lt. Gov. Joe Montoya became a U.S. representative and senator. Mack Easley became a Supreme Court Justice.
The only Lt. Gov. I can remember who had no future political ambitions was Jack Stahl, who served with Gov. Gary Carruthers in 1987 to 1990. He was happy being a one-term, part-time lieutenant governor.
MON, 11-17-08

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



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