Inside the Capitol

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.


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