What did Lt. Gov. John Sanchez really mean when he said, "My very first vote when I turned 18 years old was for a man called Ronald Reagan," at the state Republican preprimary convention this past Saturday? Does it even matter?
After Sanchez made the statement on Saturday, journalist Milan Simonich, who writes for multiple New Mexico newspapers including the Las Cruces Sun-News, reported that "Sanchez spoke of the pride he felt as an 18-year-old when he voted for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election." Simonich then uncovered that all the records he dug through showed that Sanchez "would not have reached the legal voting age of 18 until 1981—two months after Reagan's election." Therefore, Sanchez could not have voted in the 1980 elections for Ronald Reagan, according to Simonich's observations.
The problem with that assessment? Sanchez never specified that he was referring to the 1980 elections. He indeed could have been referring to 1980 in his offhand statement. After all, Sanchez has a history of missteps and gaffes.
On Tuesday, the right-leaning website and radio show News New Mexico ran a story effectively questioning Simonich's professional integrity. In a post titled, "Convention Attendees Claim Simonich Column a Thinly Disguised Hatchet Job on John Sanchez," News New Mexico quoted listener Charles Galt (or was it John?), who says he attended the convention, as saying, "[Sanchez] did not state when he voted, just that his first vote for President of the United States was for Ronald Reagan."
Galt continued: "This 'reporter' is writing misleading, slanted news a la NY Times and Pravda, he is not reporting what was said and observed but weaving editorial comment into a matrix of seemingly accurate and witnessed words/deeds."
Pravda, by the way, was the Soviet Union's official newspaper. Let's forget for a minute about ranking it in the same league as the New York Times.
The red flag from the News New Mexico story to me was that it failed to mention how Sanchez had said he was 18 when he made that first vote for Reagan. Sure, News New Mexico doesn't hold itself up to true journalistic standards, but the post was ultimately attacking the integrity of a reporter, which, for some reason, bugged me.
I attended the GOP convention this past weekend and, after first reading the News New Mexico post, was pretty sure age came up during Sanchez' speech. Luckily, I recorded the speech with a digital audio recorder. When I went back to take a listen, I found that Sanchez indeed told the crowd, "My very first vote when I turned 18 years old was for a man called Ronald Reagan."
So I tweeted this to News New Mexico just to let them know. Jim Spence, a managing partner with the radio show, tweeted back, asking me to send him the file. So I did.
After listening to my recording, News New Mexico published another post addressing the issue:
"No doubt  was [Sanchez'] first presidential vote," it says, "and no doubt Sanchez was 21 and not 18 when he cast it. In effect the Lt. Governor got the recipient of his vote correct, but the age when he cast his vote wrong. He batted .500 on that line of his speech."
Wait a minute. Sanchez never specified that he was referring to a presidential election per se; he simply said his first vote after turning 18 was cast for Reagan. Considering the fact that he turned 18 in 1981, couldn't his very first vote have hypothetically been during the 1982 midterm elections? Or the 1981 municipal elections, if any were held wherever he was living that year?
To clarify things, I called up Sanchez' office to find out what election year he was actually referring to when he made the speech. I got his voicemail. Later on, Sanchez released a prepared statement regarding the matter:
“In response to questions regarding my remarks made at last Saturday's Republican Pre-Primary Nominating Convention, I want to be perfectly clear," it reads. "I turned eighteen on January 11, 1981. The first time that I was able to cast a ballot for President was in 1984 and I proudly cast that vote for Ronald Reagan. On Saturday, I stated that ‘My very first vote when I turned eighteen years old was for a man called Ronald Reagan.’ I was referring to the first time that I was able to cast a ballot for President after turning eighteen years old.” [Emphasis mine.]
Well, that's not perfectly clear. While Sanchez said he was referring to the first time he cast a ballot for a presidential election, he didn't specify it in his speech on Saturday. As this was happening, Simonich wrote a post defending his original work:
"Sanchez told a Republican convention on Saturday that he voted for Reagan just after he turned 18," Simonich wrote. "Sanchez, now 49, was talking about the 1980 election."
But Sanchez never mentioned the 1980 election in his speech. To make sense of this, I asked NMPolitics.net's Heath Haussamen what he would have done if he were in Simonich's shoes.
"Certainly I would have asked the lieutenant governor for clarification before writing anything," he told me.
It's unclear whether Simonich did that.
Haussamen says he's surprised to see Simonich "dig in his heels" over the matter. Haussamen adds that it can be hard for journalists to admit that they've made a mistake. He recalls inaccuracies he reported last year concerning charges against former District Judge Mike Murphy, which resulted in a post apologizing to his readers and to Murphy.
I can relate. Last year, when I was writing for the Washington DC-based policy journal Climatewire, I beat myself up over three significant corrections that had to be made to a story concerning a North Dakota transmission line [Read it here].
Bottom line, we've all messed up before. I've messed up, Haussamen's messed up and Simonich could have messed up here.
And Sanchez messed up too.
I put a call (although the voicemail wasn't working) and an e-mail out to Simonich. I'll post his response if/when I get it.