Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

5-27 Lt. Gov. Sanchez Makes Senate Race Exciting

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The Republican U.S. Senate race now is definitely on. The official entry of Lt. Gov. John Sanchez provides the two heavyweight candidates political observers were expecting.
Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson announced for the Senate seat sometime ago but it seemed almost inevitable that eventually a strong candidate with appeal to conservatives would emerge.
The possibility existed that Rep. Steve Pearce would enter the contest as he did four years ago when Sen. Pete Domenici retired. But after losing that general election race to Tom Udall and winning back his former House seat, Pearce appeared content to remain in that safe seat.
Conservative leaders then focused on Lt. Gov. John Sanchez to be their savoir. As a successful businessman, who is willing to get his fundraising started with money of his own, he has appeal. And because he is Hispanic, he is sure to receive national help from organization eager to eager to broaden the Republican tent.
Wilson starts out ahead in this contest because of her name recognition after being a five-term U.S. Representative. She is a good fundraiser and stands out as an effective advocate of New Mexico's air bases and national labs.
Sanchez is likely to get some behind-the-scenes help and advice from Rep. Pearce. That's about all Pearce can do. Likewise for Gov. Suzanne Martinez.
Sanchez is her lieutenant governor and Wilson headed her transition team. That doesn't mean she is close to either, however. Martinez didn't choose Sanchez as her running mate. He won that position in the 2008 GOP primary. And Martinez's political advisors likely choose Wilson as her transition team head.
One political junkie even suggested that Gov. Martinez may want to help Lt. Gov. Sanchez as much as she can so he will be off to Washington as a U.S. senator rather than have him around as a lieutenant governor.
The New Mexico Constitution has no provision for replacing a lieutenant governor. The position remains open for the rest of that term.
When Vice President Harry Truman moved up to the presidency upon Franklin Roosevelt's death, the vice presidency remained open until the end of that term. A provision was later made for replacing a vice president and it was used when President Jack Kennedy was assassinated and when Vice President Spiro Agnew had to resign. It is how Gerald Ford became president.
New Mexico governors rarely have had a good relationship with their full-time lieutenant governor. The position originally was part time and never should have been changed in 1971.
Two lieutenant governors, Bob Ferguson and Jack Stahl, decided not to be full time. They both had very good relationships with their governors, Jerry Apodaca and Garrey Carruthers.
It is tempting to take the full-time lieutenant governor option because it could be a stepping stone to higher office. All have tried but none have succeeded. Lt. Gov. Casey Luna even ran against Gov. Bruce King who was seeking a second term.
The one difference in Lt. Gov. Sanchez's situation is that if he loses, he still will have a job for another two years, at which time he can run again for lieutenant governor or any other office.
Even though full-time lieutenant governors are not close with the governors under whom they serve, they usually are tied to them politically for good or bad.
If last year's gubernatorial election was any indication, Sanchez will be helped in the Republican primary by Gov. Martinez's popularity and could be hurt in the general election, if he gets there, by anything Martinez has done that can be criticized.
It looks like it will be a good race. Wilson has impressive academic credentials and 10 years experience representing her Albuquerque district in the House.
Sanchez has won two statewide primaries -- for governor in 2002 and for lieutenant governor in 2010. And he won a statewide general election for lieutenant governor.
FRI, 5-27-11

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



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