Inside the Capitol

Thursday, May 06, 2010

5-10 The Forgotten Races

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- It's time to give some coverage to the few down-ballot races for which we'll be voting on June 1.
No one is challenging any of the Democratic incumbents for secretary of state, attorney general, auditor or treasurer. Republicans managed to come up with general election challengers for each of those offices but none of them have any competition either.
The one exception in the down-ballot statewide races is the commissioner of public lands. Republican Patrick Lyons has held that the last two terms so can't run again.
The land office deals mainly with ranchers and with the oil and gas industry. It is a popular office for Republicans because they have been able to win it occasionally. As a result, we have spirited races on both sides of the ballot.
Several candidates filed for land commissioner. Farmer and rancher Matt Rush, who got into the race after the other candidates, surprisingly shut out the rest of the field at the GOP state pre-primary nominating convention.
Bob Cornelius, a state Public Regulation Commission employee, filed the necessary additional signatures to get on the ballot. The remaining hopefuls dropped out.
On the Democratic side, former state Land Commissioner Ray Powell also shut out the field. State Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones and Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya colleted the additional signatures necessary to get on the ballot.
The Public Regulation Commission is a state agency but its five commissioners represent separate districts. Consequently they are not considered statewide officials and, therefore, do not contend for ballot position at the state pre-primary nominating conventions.
The PRC is a combination of the former elected state Corporation Commission and the governor-appointed Public Service Commission. Both commissions handled public utilities and the public often became confused which handled which.
In addition, the corporation commissioners, who ran statewide, always seemed to be getting in trouble. Lawmakers who wanted to reform the group, felt that if they represented districts, they might be more accountable to their constituents.
Consequently the Legislature combined the two bodies and had them run from districts. There was some sentiment for making it a department with a secretary appointed by the governor.
But the restructuring had to be approved by voters as a constitutional amendment and lawmakers knew New Mexicans like to vote on as many offices as possible.
The solution was to impose special provisions on public regulation commissioners concerning the acceptance of gifts and campaign donations. Candidates also were given the option of public financing.
The results haven't been outstanding. Some commissioners and the insurance division have been embroiled in controversies. A former employee is serving time and other employees and commissioners have been investigated.
But there is always hope. Three of the commission seats are open this year and do not have incumbents running.
District 2, encompassing the heavily-Republican East side of the state, features a GOP primary between present state Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons and former legislator and magistrate judge Bob Corn.
District 4, in heavily Democratic Indian country, has a four-candidate field, including former state lawmaker George Galanis.
District 5, in Southwest New Mexico, can go either Republican or Democratic. Four Republicans are seeking that spot, along with one Democrat. Republican candidate Ben Hall of Lincoln County is a former state legislator.
Nine of the 13 candidates for the three positions filed for public financing. Seven of them fulfilled the qualifications to receive it.
Normally there aren't many contested primary elections for the state Supreme Court or the state Court of Appeals. This year, there is one such race and it has been very heated.
That race is between Linda Vanzi and Dennis Montoya. Vanzi was appointed to the position by Gov. Bill Richardson. Court appointees have to win partisan election at the end of their first term.
They usually win but in this race Montoya is running hard as a result of tangles the two got into when Vanzi was a district court judge. The case resulted in several ethics charges against Montoya.
MON, 5-10-10

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



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