Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Big Races in Politics, Balloons, Cheeseburgers

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Unlike most of the rest of the state, Albuquerque will hold its city elections on Oct. 6. Also unlike much of the state, Albuquerque elections have become very partisan.
That began in 1997, when John Dendahl was state GOP chairman. Dendahl reasoned that since Republicans were able to consistently reelect a member of Congress from the Albuquerque area, they should be able to do the same with the mayor's office if they put their minds to it.
It hasn't worked out that way, but Republicans still are trying. Current Mayor Marty Chavez is a moderate Democrat seeking a fourth term. Also in the contest is liberal Democrat Richard Romero. With two Hispanic Democrats in the race, Republicans saw their chance. They are backing Republican state Rep. Richard Berry.
Recent polling shows Berry with a slight lead and all three tightly bunched. Albuquerque has an election rule that if no candidate gets 40 percent of the vote, the top two go into a runoff in late November. That could happen. Meanwhile the race is down and dirty.
* * *
The gloves also are off in the 2nd Congressional District contest between incumbent freshman Rep. Harry Teague and former Rep. Steve Pearce.
Teague has been hit hard for the past three months over his vote for the House version of the climate bill, popularly referred to as "cap and trade." Pearce says it was the reason he got into the race.
The oil industry, in which both candidates made millions, is opposed to the legislation. Teague's vote will hurt him in the oil patch of southeast New Mexico. But it isn't expected to hurt on the west end of the district where the battle may be decided.
Both national parties will dump considerable resources into this close race. The White House already is sending cabinet secretaries into Las Cruces, the biggest city in the district. We may see President Obama before it is over.
* * *
The biggest of the statewide down-ballot races next year will be the contest for land commissioner. It is the only one of those races without an incumbent. Republican Pat Lyons has served his two-term limit.
The office of land commissioner may not sound very glamorous but it administers some 13 million acres of state land that is home to many, many oil wells, pump jacks, cows and land valuable to developers.
Former land commissioner Ray Powell, Jr. would like the job again. Another Democrat, Sandy Jones, current chairman of the state Public Regulation Commission, wants it too.
On the Republican side, GOP activist Bob Cornelius, of Lea County, and retired DEA agent Errol Chavez, of Dona Ana County, also want the seat.
* * *
Where are those balloons? The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta kicks off tomorrow without eight special shape balloons held hostage for five weeks after a show in China's Inner Mongolia.
Intervention by Gov. Bill Richardson and Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall and a $36,000 ransom payment by a New Jersey promoter supposedly have the balloons on their way. That promoter may not want any more Chinese business.
Under normal circumstances, it would take more than 10 days for the balloons to get here from China, but U.S. Customs promises to speed up the snail's pace at which it processes balloons arriving from a foreign country since 9/11.
* * *
The inaugural Governor's Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge has been won by Badlands Burgers of Grants. The Owl Café and more recently, the Buckhorn Tavern, both in San Antonio, NM, have long been the place to eat New Mexico's signature dish.
New Mexicans traveling north or south in the state often try to schedule their trip so they are in San Antonio at lunch time. Maybe Grants can become the east-west lunchtime stop.
But then, every town in the state has its great burger joint.
FRI, 10-02-09

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



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