Inside the Capitol

Friday, July 17, 2009

7-22 2 Women, 1 Man Now in Gov. Race

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The Republican gubernatorial field added another candidate last Friday. Crusading District Attorney Susana Martinez announced her candidacy. There will be no exploratory committee. She's ready to go.
Martinez has been elected four times in big Dona Ana County, which is becoming increasingly Democratic. But she has shown a capacity for attracting a large crossover vote.
She will have to do the same thing statewide in order to win a general election. And she could do just that in the heavily Democratic north. But first she has to win the Republican primary, which won't be easy.
Conservative Steve Pearce beat moderate Heather Wilson last year in the GOP senatorial primary. There are at least two Republicans already in the race, who are expected to be to the right of Martinez, a former Democrat.
Martinez doesn't have much name recognition outside her county, although she has tried some high-profile, change-of-venue cases in Albuquerque where she received media attention during the trials.
GOP leaders will remember Martinez from the days when then-state party chairman John Dendahl was urging her to run for attorney general. That's when she came to my attention.
Martinez ducked Dendahl's encouragement back then but now says she has wanted to run for a statewide office for some time. She is the first Republican from outside Albuquerque to express interest in the state's top job.
But running from Las Cruces isn't a big disadvantage. In my 60 years of political watching, three governors have won election from Las Cruces.
In 1950 Dona Ana County District Attorney Ed Mechem broke 20 years of Democratic domination by winning the first of four two-year terms. He did it promising to clean up corruption in Santa Fe. That appears to be Martinez's ticket to Santa Fe also.
In 1974, Democrat state Sen. Jerry Apodaca became the first Hispanic to win the governor's office in 54 years. As a Senate leader, Apodaca had managed to gain some exposure and contacts statewide.
In 1986, former state GOP Chairman Garrey Carruthers won election despite having worked in Washington, in the Reagan administration, for several years. Now a dean at New Mexico State University, Carruthers says Martinez is better known at this point than either he or Republican Gov. Gary Johnson were.
Carruthers says Martinez is held in extremely high regard in Las Cruces. She's a hard charging crime fighter at a time that is needed. But she also receives charges that some of her investigations are politically motivated.
She has detractors too. I have received numerous contacts from the Las Cruces area claiming she ignores complaints of police brutality and always takes the side of law enforcement officers.
Despite no women ever having run for governor in New Mexico, Martinez is the second woman to get in the gubernatorial race. Democrat Lt. Gov. Diane Denish announced her intentions very soon after she was reelected in 2006.
In addition, two more Republican women are looking seriously at the race. State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, of Albuquerque, has formed an exploratory committee and former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson is keeping republicans on the edge of their seats waiting to see what she decides.
When former U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce decided to take a shot at winning his former 2nd Congressional District seat back, many thought that might entice Wilson into the race.
Would the possibility of having three women in the race dissuade her? Not likely. Wilson will be the early favorite in the race if she does decide to get in.
For Martinez to get on the ballot, she must receive at least 20 percent of the vote at the state GOP nominating convention next March. The Dona Ana vote will get her quite a way. And there will be others who will feel a female Hispanic will help broaden the party.
WED, 7-22-09

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



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