Inside the Capitol

Friday, January 09, 2009

1-12 Denish Accustomed to Changing Fortunes

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE – I've told you this one before but it is even more appropriate now. It illustrates how politics works, anywhere, at the most basic level.
It was 1994. Gov. Bruce King was running for a second consecutive term. Lt. Gov. Casey Luna had left the fold. Patricia Madrid and Diane Denish were the leading contenders to replace Casey.
On primary election night, Democrats met at the Hilton Inn, by the Big I, in Albuquerque. Much of the interest centered on the close race for lieutenant governor. Both candidates had big hospitality rooms.
My wife Jeanette and I checked out the Madrid hospitality room. She was ahead at the time and it was packed. So we kept walking, figuring Denish's room wouldn't be as crowded and she probably needed cheering up.
We walked into a nearly deserted room and had Diane's full attention. We sat on the sofa and soon were greeted by television news that Denish had jumped into the lead.
Suddenly there was a rumbling in the hallway as dozens of well-wishers charged into the room to let Denish know how hard they had worked for her during the primary.
Wanting to escape the crush, we returned to Madrid's room, which no longer was congested. We had a nice chat with the candidate until the TV reporter announced that a clerical error had reversed the results from a northern county and that Madrid was still in the lead.
You can guess the rest. The thundering herd returned, with the same faces at the front of the line. In a 20 minute period the sea had changed twice.
Fast-forward fourteen-and-a-half years and Diane Denish is a major player again. This time, instead of 20 minutes in the sun, it was a month that politicos had to stream from Bill Richardson to Denish.
That's a long time. Denish likes to say a day can be a lifetime in politics. Hundreds of people Richardson rewarded with jobs were busy pledging their next 10 years to Denish.
Thousands more had time to become very comfortable with the feeling of moving from Richardson's style of running government to Denish's. And that was pretty typical with New Mexicans in general.
Now it's all over. Bill's back. And he's going to be with us a heck of a lot more than he has been the past two years. How is he going to take it? How are we going to take it?
Is Big Bill going to make a list of who's been naughty and nice? What about those who already had resigned their state jobs? What about those who already had moved to Washington and plunked down money on apartment leases?
Someone said it's like divorcing a spouse and then finding out the deal's off and you have to live together another two years. How will we handle it? It will be a little awkward, to say the least.
With the state facing a major economic crisis, looking at some painful cuts, it's a tough time to have an uneasiness at the top.
In the state legislature, Majority leader Michael Sanchez says, "Everyone was thinking Gov. Richardson would be gone. Now that he's back, things are not quite the same."
Adding to the possible unsteadiness of the coming session, Senate leader Tim Jennings, of Roswell, jilted by his own party, is out romancing Republicans, hoping to retain his position.
Richardson's withdrawal also is causing uneasiness in Washington with finger-pointing between the Obama and Richardson camps over whether Richardson was sufficiently forthcoming or whether the Obama staff didn't follow up.
If Richardson stays, Denish could be the person hurt worst by this turn of events. Many saw her as a breathe of fresh air. Almost two years of experience could have made her a strong incumbent in her 2010 gubernatorial run.
But two years in an awkward situation could give Republicans ammunition for a strong challenge.
MON, 1-12-08

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



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