Inside the Capitol

Thursday, May 31, 2012

6-4 The polarization of politics

60412 Extremism

SANTA FE – The political world has changed. It hasn't happened overnight, although the morning after President Barack Obama's inauguration, when Rush Limbaugh said "I hope this president fails," was perhaps the most seminal event in this change.
Most Republicans in our nation's capital followed Limbaugh. Those who didn't, don skates designed for thin ice. The following year, the Tea Party came into existence and gave a home to those who wanted to camp on the right end of the political spectrum and not budge.
They were hugely successful in the 2010 congressional elections, ousting many of their party's longtime moderates and replacing them with new members who had taken pledges not to give an inch on their promises.
And now that view is being duplicated in the Democratic Party. U.S. House candidate Eric Griego of Albuquerque says in a campaign commercial, "The last thing I want to send to Washington is Democrats who are just a kinder, gentler version of Republicans.
Griego is addressing those remarks to his two opponents, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Marty Chavez. The two of them had made comments in the Albuquerque congressional district's only debate indicating that Griego would not be a good member of Congress because he is so adamant in his beliefs that he is unwilling to reach across the aisle to seek agreement.
Don't be surprised to see Griego win. He is supported by unions and environmental organizations. Unions have somewhat learned the art of the deal but they seldom support a Republican. Environmentalists are known for wanting 100 percent voting records out of their endorsees. The result is do-nothing legislatures and Congress.
The problem of moderation has vexed U.S. Senate Republican candidate Heather Wilson in her primary election races. Wilson had a fairly moderate voting record during her 10 years of service in the U.S. House. But she had to run as a full-fledged conservative in primary elections. She then moderated her stands somewhat in her general elections and labels her Democratic opponents as liberals.
The formula worked for her during her time in Congress. She was beaten four years ago by Rep. Steve Pearce in the U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici. And she would have had trouble this year from a viable conservative opponent.
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez was in the U.S. Senate race for a while. He was viable but his voting record during a two-year House stint in the early 2000s was fairly moderate. That didn't bother GOP leaders who were supporting him back then.
By this year, they were willing to call him a reliable conservative against Wilson. But then something happened and Lt. Gov. Sanchez dropped out of the race. That left the truly conservative Greg Sowards, a Las Cruces businessman. For some reason, Sowards didn't catch on so he saved his money and didn't invest in a big campaign.
So we now have a Congress unwilling to compromise. The last chance we had for a truly big compromise was on President George W. Bush's comprehensive immigration bill in 2007. Not many Republicans supported it but there were enough so that when Democrats were added in, the president had a majority.
But then big labor unions became fearful that jobs could be lost and enough Democrats switched to kill the bill.
Gov. Susana Martinez has tried three times to repeal the law that allows illegal aliens to obtain a driver's license. It has passed the House but can't make it through the Senate. Various senators have proposed compromises they say address all the Governor's concerns.
But Martinez has refused to accept anything but exactly what she wants. By showing a little moderation, she could have been able to declare victory.
We are being told the current elections may show the lowest voter turnouts in years. It appears Americans are getting tired of politics as usual.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

6-1 Political races tightening

60112 Close races

SANTA FE – As we approach the June 5 election, the close races look even closer. But there just aren't many of them.
The Democratic 1st Congressional District race appears to be tighter than ever between the top two contenders Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Sen. Eric Griego.
Former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez also is in the race but his moderate politics just don't fit into a primary election for either party. Chavez did well in his runs for mayor, which is a non-partisan position. But put him in a party primary and he doesn't have a big enough base.
On the GOP side, political observers are all watching the state Senate election in Clovis. Actually the district goes far north and west of Clovis all the way to the Colorado border but Clovis is the population center.
And now, in Clovis we're watching a political standoff that will affect the entire state. It started 10 years ago when then-Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley, a former state senator from Clovis, ran for governor. He was beaten in a nasty GOP primary by John Sanchez, New Mexico's current lieutenant governor.
Sanchez didn't do any dirty work. That was done by his campaign manager Jay McCleskey. Bradley was accused of an unpardonable Republican sin – being a friend of then-Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon.
A few lines could be drawn between Bradley and Aragon but only in the natural course of Senate business.
But it worked. He lost to Sanchez who was being groomed as the heir apparent of party leadership back then.
Since then, Sanchez, who now is lieutenant governor has fallen out of grace with the GOP powers that be. When Sanchez announced for the U.S. Senate, Gov. Martinez stripped him of all his duties except those provided by the state constitution.
Now that Sanchez has withdrawn from the U.S. Senate campaign, we haven't heard of any duties that have been reinstated.
In the Clovis election, we'll get to see if a similar tactic will work against Pat Woods, an opponent of Angie Spears, who has been endorsed by Gov. Susanna Martinez.
During his time as a lobbyist for farmers, Woods gave campaign donations to both Republican and Democratic legislators whom he felt could help with farm matters.
The donations to Democrats were very small compared to his Republican donations but that doesn't matter in this bitter campaign. Woods is helping liberal Democrats, his detractors are saying.
Anyone who has lobbied knows that lobbyists typically make campaign donations to both parties, though not necessarily in equal amounts.
A previous column mentioned some tight legislative primaries around the state. One of them was the battle between incumbent John Arthur Smith of Deming and Larry Martinez of Lordsburg.
Now, freelance writer Christopher Schurtz has written a long analysis of the race for the Santa Fe Reporter weekly paper. In it, he describes Smith's toughest race in many years.
Smith's only other tough legislative race was against Deming's Nancy Stovall. Her campaign was run by Sen. Rod Adair of Roswell. As with most of Adair's campaigns, things got pretty negative. Smith's other tough campaign was against Rep. Steve Pearce in 2002. Smith is conservative but the Democrat label beat him in southeastern New Mexico.
In this race, residents of the state Senate district, which includes Hidalgo, Luna and Sierra counties and part of Dona Ana County, are being asked whether Smith might be too conservative.
A national SuperPAC and the American Federation of Teachers are going all out against him. The SuperPAC is called Progressive Kick and is specifically focusing on a handful of state legislative primary races that it feels are key to producing progressive leaders with real backbone. Smith definitely has a backbone but he isn't progressive enough for the PACs and unions that are opposing him.
The winner of the June 5 primary will face Las Cruces Republican Russell Allen.

Friday, May 25, 2012

5-30 A new immigration approach for Gov. Martinez?

53012 Enchanting Guv

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez still is mostly a mystery to the state and national media. She doesn't do many interviews and she doesn't make many public appearances. The public appearances she does make usually are not publicized because she does not issue a schedule of her coming events as most other governors have done.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson had some pretty mysterious cronies but he was not mysterious himself. Not long after he was elected to Congress, he pulled me aside at one of the frequent media gatherings he hosted and told me he was concerned about someone on his staff feeding me inside information about his thoughts and plans.
I told him his only worry should be that I had him figured out. He was predictable. That can't be said about Gov. Martinez. Perhaps we'll never be able to figure her out. I knew from soon after I met him that Richardson's firm goal was the White House. I suspect that Gov. Martinez has the same goal.
I knew when Bill Richardson said he wouldn't accept a vice-presidential offer that he really was working for it behind the scenes. When Gov. Martinez says she won't accept, I'm not sure. I think she has good personal reasons not to accept but from all indications she listens to her political advisers very closely.
Elected public officials and political advisors have different motives. They both are interested in their futures but not necessarily in each other's futures. The authors who told us so much about the 2008 presidential election in the book "Game Change" said they got much of their information from staff members after the election.
By that time most of those staff advisors had moved on to look for new jobs with 2010 candidates. That's the life of political advisers. Gov. Martinez's advice may be coming from people who have different motives than her own.
But one thing that seems pretty clear about our state's governor is that she must be enchanting. Ten days ago I saw an online poll asking who I thought would be the best vice-presidential candidate. Gov. Martinez was not even included in the list of around 30 candidates.
And yet a few days later "Newsweek" magazine carried a glowing three-page interview of Gov. Martinez saying she knows how to beat President Obama and that she might be presidential candidate Mitt Romney's best veep pick.
Since this was one of Martinez's few interviews concerning the vice presidency, several national news organizations and bloggers quickly picked up on it. The Daily Beast said Susana Martinez can teach the GOP a thing or two. The Tucson Citizen said Mitt Romney should listen to Susana Martinez…but he won't.
The left-leaning Huffington Post said Susana Martinez slams Mitt Romney's immigration strategy. The right-leaning Town Hall said, "Who's afraid of Susana Martinez?" Republicans should be.
It is true that the major message of the Newsweek article was Gov. Martinez's slant on immigration. She is known in New Mexico for her unsuccessful attempts to repeal driver's licenses for illegal aliens.
But in the Newsweek article she spells out a comprehensive immigration plan that hasn't been supported by any Republicans since President George W. Bush nearly got it passed in 2007. says Martinez has committed veep suicide by suggesting a comprehensive immigration plan. That is too big a flip even for Romney.
So what does this indicate for Susana Martinez? Is this move toward a more pragmatic approach to immigration a subtle way to take herself out of vice-presidential consideration this year while positioning herself for the future?
Who knows? Does she figure that a slim Hispanic turnout for Republican candidates this year will cause the party to look for a softer stand in the future? We'll just have to wait and see what this woman of mystery has up her sleeve.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

5-28 State refusal to release records will cost taxpayers

52812 BTK$

SANTA FE – The long, strange case of Billy the Kid is about to become much more real to New Mexicans. This chapter began in 2003, when new Gov. Bill Richardson and some sheriffs decided they wanted to dig up some graves to prove that Pat Garrett actually shot Billy.
Approval to dig up graves was required from the state Office of the Medical Investigator. That office denied the requests saying that time, flooding and gravesite movement over the past 120 years made finding the correct bodies and obtaining usable DNA essentially impossible.
It should have ended there with the only cost to the state being the time of an OMI official to process the request. But the governor and sheriffs went to court and found a Silver City judge who said if Billy's DNA could be produced, he'd let his mother's grave be dug.
So the scene shifted to Fort Sumner where it was eventually dropped. If the case had ended there, the only cost to the governor and sheriffs would have been for some legal time and court costs, which likely were paid for by private donations.
But it wasn't over yet. The sheriffs said they found the carpenter's bench on which the dead Kid was laid. Blood samples were taken from the bench. The sheriffs then turned their attention to Prescott, Arizona, where the Kid's pretender John Miller was buried at the Arizona Pioneer Cemetery.
Since it was a state-run facility, Gov. Janet Napolitano evidently gave approval to dig an unmarked grave to look for Miller's bones. On the second try, with a back hoe, a skeleton with buck teeth was found. Samples were taken from that.
Those samples and the samples from the carpenter's bench were sent to a Texas lab for DNA matching. When nothing was heard, those with great interest in the Billy the Kid legend became suspicious. They wanted to know the results. By that time the governor had dropped out and the focus of the Lincoln County sheriffs seemed to have shifted to proving Pat Garrett didn't kill Billy the Kid.
So historian Gale Cooper and De Baca County News publisher Scott Stinnett filed suit requesting the lab report from the sheriff's office. For five years the sheriffs refused to produce the report. The legal wrangling through the courts finally has resulted in an order to produce the records.
And just as the state Office of the Medical Investigator had predicted nine years earlier, the tests were inconclusive. So how much has this court action cost the state? Besides their own costs, the state must pay the expenses of those who prevail in court.
I am told the lawyers seeking the public records are claiming close to $500,000 in expenses. The state's own costs typically run higher than plaintiffs who sue the state so this easily can be over a million-dollar case at this point. On May 31, in Sandoval County District Court, a hearing will be held to determine the extent of the plaintiff legal fee claims.
It is too bad all that money couldn't have been used to promote Billy the Kid Country. The lawsuits themselves have attracted scant media attention so have done little good except to preserve the Billy legend. That is good for New Mexico, where nearly all the legend occurred. And it is good that the hard work of many dedicated historians has been preserved.
The New Mexico Tourism Department, after running an ambitious Billy the Kid promotion last year, now has dropped all information on Billy the Kid Country on its Web site. Maybe it is only temporary since the subject is one of the most popular for tourists. It also must be popular with newspaper readers since I receive more mail on that subject than any other.
What will be the next chapter in the Billy the Kid saga? Historians tell me a new one crops up about every 10 years. This chapter began nine years ago.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5-25 Political races provide much intrigue

52512 intrigue

SANTA FE – Political intrigue has become a major factor in New Mexico's 2012 primary elections. Normally our state doesn't see many intra-party squabbles during primary elections. Party officials are banned from supporting primary candidates. What does happen usually is deep behind the scenes.
The exception to these rules occurs in New Mexico's northern mountains where Democratic county chairmen publicly endorse entire slates of candidates. Often rivals will endorse competing slates. That's the way it goes in Northern New Mexico.
But now, a Southern New Mexico governor is changing that with an endorsement of Heather Wilson in the U.S. Senate primary and state Senate candidates Angie Spears, of Clovis, and Rob Doughty, of Albuquerque. There also is word that Gov. Martinez's Susana PAC may make some contributions shortly before the June 5 primary election.
In Albuquerque, we also have news that Bernalillo County Republican Vice-Chairman Colin Hunter is running a Super PAC called Friends of Freedom. Hunter has since resigned his GOP position. He is a lawyer with a firm headed by Mickey Barnett, a former state senator and a longtime power in the state and national GOP. Barnett has been involved in his share of intra-party disputes.
Candidates for the constantly embattled Public Regulation Commission are involved in plenty of intrigue. In PRC District 1, blogger Joe Monahan reports receiving information from Democratic candidate Karen Montoya that another candidate, Al Park, has a contract with the state's Risk Management Division that has paid him over $60,000 in the last 10 months for legal services.
The division director is Jay Hone, husband of U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson. The division provides self-insured protection for the state against law suits and other losses.
The question is whether Park would be pressured to vote the Martinez line if he becomes a PRC commissioner. Some evidence exists indicating that this might already have happened. Park came to the Legislature 12 years ago as a liberal Democrat but in recent sessions, he has taken some more conservative stances.
Most notable was his effort as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to find a compromise that would pass Gov. Martinez's bill repealing driver's licenses for undocumented workers. When he wasn't able to obtain agreement from committee Democrats, he said he might have to vote for the bill himself, which he did, and the measure passed the House.
The state contract with Rep. Park's law firm is not unusual and it likely didn't start 10 months ago, which would have been the beginning of the present fiscal year. It is common for the Risk Management Division to contract with as many law firms as it can possibly need.
I recently talked with a woman who wanted to file an open public records suit against the state. She said she contacted every lawyer in the state, who handles that type of case, to represent her and they all said they had a conflict of interest because they represented state risk management.
Tying up all the lawyers in who might ever sue the state for any reason is a powerful tool the state has to protect itself. It can also be a powerful tool for a governor and I'll wager that all of them have used it. The Legislature has many lawyers and it isn't likely Rep. Park's firm is the only one with a state contract.
PRC District 3 has its own intrigues. Two of its four candidates have troubled pasts as indicated by newspaper reports and some jail booking photos floating around. The only reason races in the commission's other three districts don't contain intrigue is that they have staggered terms.
New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission has control over more areas than any other similar agency in the nation. Yet potential candidates with expertise know they will be beaten by politicians.
Extra qualifications and fewer duties will be on the ballot in November. Vote for them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

5-23 New Mexico to see political changes

52312 candidates

SANTA FE – The 2012 election will produce many new faces for New Mexicans. Half our senatorial delegation will change, along with at least a third of our House members.
Obviously that's not a lot of faces and some of them we have seen elsewhere. But New Mexicans are not accustomed to changing their congressional delegation very often. It is one reason our state receives much more than its share of federal money.
New Mexico currently is going through a transition caused by the retirements of two senators with a combined 66 years in Congress. Starting over won't be fun but we enjoyed a long ride on the gravy train of federal projects.
It appears we will have a U.S. Senate race in November between Republican Heather Wilson and Democrat Martin Heinrich. Both have experience in the U.S. House, which will give them a slight leg up in the Senate.
Neither of them have had to break a sweat in the primary election. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez dropped out of the race early. Las Cruces businessman Greg Sowards, running as the only true conservative, never got his campaign in gear.
Sowards loaned himself a big wad of money but hasn't used much of it. This has given Wilson time to work on softening what many considered a severe image.
The action isn't much livelier on the Democratic side. Both Heinrich and state Auditor Hector Balderas are in basic agreement on the issues. Balderas is a strong candidate and has received some important endorsements.
He also has a very compelling life story. But if political observers are correct, he will have to go negative to have a chance of winning. And he doesn't appear prepared to do that.
New Mexico's U.S. Senate race is considered one of the most important in the nation so expect the action to pick up soon after the primary elections. Our state no longer is considered a battleground for the presidency but it is for the U.S. Senate.
The major primary election action is the Democratic race for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Heinrich. State Sen. Eric Griego is considered the favorite but Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham appears to be closing fast. Former Mayor Marty Chavez is thought to be trailing.
Lujan Grisham and Chavez both accuse Griego of being too rigid in his positions and unwilling to compromise. They contend it will make Griego an ineffective member of Congress. It appears Democrats may have a liberal Tea Party.
This year's redistricting is producing some interesting legislative races. Sen. John Arthur Smith, of Deming, may have some trouble in the Democratic primary. He served as the conservative counterpart to former Gov. Bill Richardson but some Democrats suggest his brand of conservatism isn't needed when we have a conservative governor.
The House's longest serving member, Rep. Nick Salazar, has two Democratic opponents in the primary election. One is former Rep. Bengie Regensburg of Taos County.
Retiring House Speaker Ben Lujan is still waging some political battles. He is enthusiastically supporting Santa Fe Mayor David Coss to take over his seat. Coss is opposed by Carl Trujillo, who narrowly lost to Lujan two years ago.
Lujan also has given the Democratic opponent of Rep. Sandra Jeff a $1,500 campaign contribution. Rep. Jeff has been a thorn under Lujan's saddle the past two years in which the Democratic majority in the House has fallen to a near tie.
Perhaps the biggest news so far in this election year has been the participation of Gov. Susana Martinez in some Republican primaries. She began by scolding Lt. Gov. John Sanchez for entering the U.S. Senate race. The following day she attended a function for U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson.
Then came her endorsement of Angie Spears, of Clovis, and Rob Doughty, of Albuquerque, in state Senate races.
Nearly all governors get involved in their party's primaries but usually far behind the scenes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I'll return this Friday afternoon. No columns Fri or Mon.


Friday, May 11, 2012

5-16 Run Gary Run

51612 Big J

SANTA FE – If Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson can catch a break in the next few weeks, he could shake things up big time and have a lot of fun doing it.
We can figure Johnson will not have to be listening to his party establishment telling him what he has to say. He won't have high-paid advisers walking back statements or explaining what Johnson really meant.
The libertarian philosophy is a consistent one and Johnson always has been in step with the philosophy. Essentially people and businesses should have the liberty to do what they want as long as it doesn't hurt others. And if they mess up their lives while doing their thing, they have a personal responsibility to fix the problem. Government isn't going to help.
It's really very simple. It involves a lot of tolerance of people's differences and a lot of toughness about personal consequences. It means being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Maybe that doesn't seem to fit but if Libertarians had a vote for every time I have heard people describe their personal philosophy that way, they would be a large and powerful party.
Libertarians have mastered one part of our political system quite well. They usually qualify their presidential candidate on all 50 state ballots.
But they're not good at raising money. Unlike Democrats and Republicans, they have little influence to sell. I realize that is not why people donate to candidates, but it does seem to help. Obtaining federal election funds would be a huge help and that could happen soon.
If Johnson were able to score five percent of the vote in November, it would help the party tremendously and make the 2016 picture much rosier. But 1.1 percent is the best a Libertarian presidential candidate has ever been able to do.
The only other time Libertarians ran an experienced politician for office, it was U.S. Rep. Bob Barr. He only garnered 0.4 percent of the nationwide vote. But Barr was controversial and abrasive. Gary Johnson is a much nicer guy. He treats his opponents with respect and does not run negative campaigns.
The challenge for Johnson now is to hit 15 percent in some national polls. His big hurdle there is to be included in the polls. Last year, Johnson scored two percent in some national Republican polls, which should have been enough to get him on stage, but then the polls quit listing him.
Gary Johnson must somehow crack the mainstream media, left and right, in order to get into the debates. Both sides seem to be afraid of him. That includes the major polling firms. Johnson can make the presidential race much more interesting if he is given the opportunity.
Occasionally third party candidates do break through. Ross Perot did it in 1992 with 16 percent of the vote. And most notably, Teddy Roosevelt, running on the Bull Moose Party ticket in 1912, finished second with 27 percent of the vote, beating Republican incumbent William Howard Taft. Democrat Woodrow Wilson won that race.
In polls that do include Johnson, he currently is running between 6 and 9 percent. If he can get some decent news coverage, that figure could go up. He is now handling questions very deftly and makes for a good interview.
How is Johnson doing in his home state? Last fall, he finished first among Republican candidates with 23 percent of the vote. He hopes to take New Mexico again in November. It will be difficult. By then supporters of the two major party candidates will have become so polarized, they won't want to risk throwing their vote to a third party candidate.
For now, Johnson is visiting state conventions and town halls preaching a message of minimum government and maximum freedom. His attitude about winning it all still is high. He says he and his fiancé are looking forward to a White House wedding.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

5-14 Will GOP beat itself again?

51412 Repubs behaving badly?

SANTA FE – Now's the time for all the stops to come out. There's two weeks left in the 2012 political primaries. If you're going to do something, do it now.
Admittedly, there aren't many hot primary races. Our pitiful redistricting process puts both Republican and Democratic incumbents in districts as safe as can possibly be justified by the rules. This means having uninteresting primaries and even less interesting general election campaigns.
And there's no way to fix it in New Mexico. Some states allow voters to rebel and put their own ideas out for public vote. Those states have independent redistricting commissions, which make districts as competitive as possible.
But Congress was afraid that Wild West New Mexicans couldn't be trusted so the elites were put in permanent control – and we always will be under their control.
Since politics is a very dirty business, even well-designed plans, such as the redistricting plan in Arizona, is being subverted by a governor and legislature who don't like what is fair and are making illegal moves to subvert the redistricting.
In New Mexico's few contested primaries, we do find some rather good battles. Democrats are fighting over Speaker Ben Lujan's coveted seat. Current Santa Fe Mayor David Coss is one of the combatants.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez is being opposed by Rep. David Chavez in a Democratic primary. Chavez said just before declaring his senatorial candidacy that his law practice was so good that he was leaving the Legislature.
Why the sudden change of heart? Several sources report that Gov. Susana Martinez wants Sanchez out because he has sunk much of her priority legislation, such as not allowing driver's licenses for illegal aliens.
It also is reported that political consultant Jay McCleskey is the driving force behind anything Gov. Martinez does politically. McCleskey's influence also goes further than pitting Republicans against Democrats or Democrats against Democrats. It even extends to pitting Republicans against Republicans.
Last month, it was reported that Martinez and McCleskey were trying to unseat Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle for not having fought hard enough to get Martinez's legislation through the Senate. That didn't work well. Ingle is highly respected by both sides in the Senate.
Then it was reported that Sen. Clint Harden of Clovis had been pressured into retiring. Harden is a nice, affable guy but that may not have fit into the Republican game plan for taking the Senate or at least getting priority legislation passed.
Angie Spears, the niece of Public Regulation Commission Chairman Pat Lyons immediately announced for the seat and was endorsed by Gov. Martinez. But then Republican businessmen Pat Woods and Mark Myers protested that the seat should be open to anyone interested and not to just the GOP establishment.
Gov. Martinez countered that she merely was endorsing the first person to announce for the seat. That did not satisfy Woods and Myers. Myers then dropped out and threw his support to Woods, saying they'd fight the establishment together.
Back in the 1970s, southern Democrats at the state and national level began heading toward the Republican Party, in what was then called Richard Nixon's southern strategy.
In New Mexico, it began as coalitions, first to take over the state House, then Senate. Later, Republican legislators began changing parties, first in the House, then in the Senate. Republicans and a group of opportunistic Democrats ran the House for most of the 1970s and '80s.
The Senate finally got its stuff together in the '80s. But it didn't last very long before three disgruntled Republicans didn't feel they got a fair shake in the coup and went over to the Democratic side.
Then came the 1988 elections, when George H.W. Bush handily won the presidency but New Mexico Democrats just as handily took back the Senate.
Will we see a repeat of that GOP overreach this year or will things mellow out?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

5-11 Game Change is more than just a movie

51112 Game Change

SANTA FE – It isn't common to recommend a book that is two years old, especially when it chronicles events of four years ago. Besides that, the book is about politics, of which it has been said that a day can seem like a hundred years.
But Game Change, by top political writers Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, is a book that still is current today. To know the inside scoop about what happened in the last presidential election is to have an insight into what is happening now.
Several friends recently have seen the movie by the same name and have recommended I see it. I suggest they read the book. The movie covers the relationships among John McCain, his staff and Sarah Palin. That's all the time they had.
The book covers the inside stories of the Obamas, the Clintons, the Edwards, the McCains, the Palins and their staffs. Much of the inside information came from staff members following the election.
More than 300 interviews were conducted with over 200 people. Many of them provided emails, recordings, notes, memos, schedules and other forms of documentation. All interviews were conducted on a "deep background" basis, meaning the sources were not identified in any way.
As one might imagine, many of the sources firmly denied they ever had made such comments. It was left to the reader to decide who was telling the truth. One thing working in the writers' favor is that no one came out looking really good.
To my eye, the book didn't appear to have a political bias. Although to some of the characters and their supporters, bias was completely evident. But that's the way it goes. Such is to be expected.
But then came the movie – with film clips. It is difficult to deny that you are misquoting yourself on film. McCain's senior strategist Steve Schmidt said watching the HBO movie was tantamount to an out-of-body experience. Palin and McCain said they wouldn't be watching the movie so they wouldn't be commenting on the content.
Much of the book and movie centered on Schmidt's decision that McCain needed a game changer in order to salvage the election. Sarah Palin was a game changer. She added an energy to the campaign that previously had been lacking.
But in the end, Palin again became a game changer when it became evident to America that she was not ready to become president.
The movie has been well received by critics. It may help add to the credibility of the book. The stories of all the candidates, their spouses and staff deserve notice.
The biggest message I received from the book was that nothing is as it seems. Barack Obama is Mr. Cool in his public life. He is smart, calm and well-spoken. In private life, he is profane, tentative and trigger-tempered.
The other huge surprise was that the late Elizabeth Edwards, who appeared courageous, heroic and angelic, was, in fact, vindictive, abusive and foul-mouthed. Michelle Obama is the only person in the entire batch that I'd be proud for my grandchildren to know.
The biggest downer from the book is that the people who seek to lead us are no better than we are in our worst moments.
A few bloggers have insisted they knew all the secrets revealed in the book. I find that very difficult to believe. Even more criticism has been heaped on the media for not knowing all this while it was happening. The answer to that is that the mainstream media are held to different standards.
Those who saw only the movie missed what the authors said were the biggest game change of all. On the very last page of the book, Hillary Clinton agreed to become President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state.
She previously had declined to accept because Bill Clinton was such a wild card that neither Hillary nor Obama ever could control what he might do. But thy worked it out.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

5-9 Gary Johnson Deserves Attention

50912 Gary for pres

SANTA FE – Is Gary Johnson finally going to get some attention? The Republican establishment shut him out of the polls and debates last fall. Will being the nominee of the Libertarian Party make any difference now?
It's no slam dunk. Libertarians are seen as just short of weird. How can a political philosophy embrace both limited government and the legalization of pot? It's really quite simple but in our current world of bi-polar political beliefs, no one wants to listen.
Rep. Ron Paul tried to dish it out slowly and simply in the GOP debates but it was too bland as Republican leaders held their breath for fear the libertarian would say something that they would have to spend the next year defending.
Evidently Paul wanted to speak at this year's convention and the 2008 convention, but Republicans wouldn't hear of it. Johnson didn't get that far, being closed out of the polls and the debates.
The road to getting on stage with President Obama and Mitt Romney will be even tougher. The rules say Johnson must consistently be poling 15 percent and be on enough November state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning the presidency.
The ballot qualification isn't a problem. The Libertarian party usually gets itself on all 50 state ballots. But 15 percent in the polls would be a miracle. Johnson is at about half that right now and the trend for third-party candidates is downward as election day approaches.
Johnson does have some things going for him however. He's a former governor, which should increase his credibility. U.S. Rep. Bob Barr was the Libertarian candidate in 2008 and got only 0.4 percent of the vote but Barr was loose cannon in Congress and didn't bring much credibility with his candidacy.
Gov. Johnson should attract Tea Party support with his record of over 700 vetoes in eight years. One convention supporter bragged that Johnson vetoed more bills than Barry Bonds hit homeruns on steroids.
Johnson has respect within the Libertarian Party even though he is a late comer. He easily won on the first ballot with 70 percent of the vote. Four years ago, it took six ballots to choose a candidate.
Johnson could have had the nomination for the asking in 2000 when he was serving as governor and had just declared himself against the war on drugs. But Johnson hadn't set his eye on the presidential goal at the time.
I figured any politician, who planned to climb Mt. Everest as soon as his term was over, would set his sights on something like the presidency soon after. At the time, I wrote a column predicting that Johnson and Bill Richardson both would run for president in 2008. Johnson suggested I had been smoking something funny. Richardson offered me a job.
Johnson did the wise thing after winning his landslide nomination. He headed to New York, hoping on a slow news Sunday he could get some exposure. He has to hope he can be interesting enough to continue getting attention.
The Libertarian message is intriguing but few are ready to listen. They prefer to hear their candidates make mountains out of molehills from some off-hand remark made by an opposing candidate.
Libertarians, on the other hand, believe in the liberty of businesses and individuals to do what they desire without government intrusion. Democrats and Republicans believe that too except when they disagree with the issue. Then they want government to make the act illegal.
About the only places Johnson gets to talk that way is in speeches to the Johns Hopkins Center on advanced Governmental Studies and the University of California seminar on Liberty in Governance.
Johnson is doing a much better job of presenting himself. The groups of dozens or hundreds he has been speaking to the past year have helped him fine tune a message and its presentation. He deserves a chance to demonstrate those skills.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

5-4 Fued for thought about Billy statues

50612 BTK statues

SANTA FE – The recent column carrying researcher Mike Pitel's conclusion that Texas has two statues of Billy the Kid while New Mexico has none has drawn some responses.
Retired Col. Stuart Pritchard of Roswell suggests I don't know what I'm talking about. The amateurish statue in San Elizario, Texas is of no value as permanent statuary, he says. And the one in Hico, Texas is obviously disqualified since it purports to be Brushy Bill Roberts, a proven impostor.
Pritchard says there is an excellent bronze of the Kid in Artesia by Robert Summers, the sculptor of the recently dedicated Pat Garrett statue in Roswell. The Artesia statue is titled "The Rustler" and is intended to portray Billy branding a stolen John Chisum steer.
Billy did rustle steers for Chisum and from Chisum. So it seems quite logical that the statue portrays Billy. But some people in Artesia don't like the idea of immortalizing a law breaking Billy in bronze. Regardless, Pritchard says, the score stands New Mexico 1, Texas 0. I agree with him and Pritchard says the sculptor does too.
But Pitel doesn't. He spent a career as the Billy the Kid expert at the state Tourism Department. Pitel has traveled to every spot in New Mexico that has anything to do with Billy. And he's written authoritatively about it in brochures and a website.
Pitel says the Kid didn't waste any time stopping to brand his stolen cattle. The branding also would have attracted attention. If he happened upon a friend who already was branding, Billy might stop but that's it.
Secondly, Pitel says, leave artistic merit out of it. If the statue says "Billy the Kid," it's Billy the Kid. If it says "The Rustler," it's just any old rustler.
Finally, Pitel says Wilbur Coe, son of Frank Coe, who rode with Billy, carved an eight-foot statue of the Kid that sat at the Coe's front gate. Pitel isn't sure what happened to it because he hasn't seen it in many years.
Does anyone have any information on that statue?
Then there is sculptor Bob Diven in Las Cruces, who has an idea for how to get people, downtown again. We all know how towns grow toward the suburbs and leave the city center looking pretty deserted.
City leaders have tried their darndest to keep things looking spiffy but they just aren't as lively as I remember them back in the 1940s, when I spent many summers there visiting both sets of grandparents.
So Diven, whose talents also include painting, singing, design, photography and who knows what else, has an idea for a 60-foot Plexiglas Billy the Kid to be incorporated into the exterior of a three-story structure housing shops, restaurants and a museum. Diven already has completed a life-size clay statue of the Kid, awaiting supersizing.
Now that sounds like a winner. People would be willing to drive clear across town to see that. Heck, think of the tourists who would come.
Billy didn't spend a lot of time in the Las Cruces-La Mesilla area. The Santa Fe Ring was boss in those parts. That's why they took Billy there to be tried for Sheriff Brady's killing. And it worked. They got a quick conviction.
But that hasn't stopped local stores from featuring Billy. So why not go with Diven's idea? He says he's moving right along with a site and drawings and estimates. He probably has everything he needs except financing. Any takers?
It sounds a little too much like Texas. But, hey, we thought of it first. If tourists will travel halfway around the world to see a UFO, why not Billy the Kid?
Pitel says Divens' project reminds him of the late Murray Cornell of Santa Fe, who long claimed he owned the store where Billy the Kid was held pending his Las Cruces trial. Murray would have loved to get involved in this project.