Back in February 2010, Carly Fiorina—the former CEO of Hewlett Packard and, at the time, Republican candidate for one of California's seats in the US Senate—released a low-budget campaign ad characterizing her primary opponent as a "demon sheep." More than three minutes long, the ad featured ugly clip art, melodramatic voice-overs and a man crawling around on all fours, sporting a poorly designed sheep costume and glowing red eyes.
The ad went viral, helping propel Fiorina to a primary victory, but later backfired when her Democratic opponents released a parody casting Fiorina herself as the demon sheep. She lost the general election to incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Demon sheep have since been eclipsed by "Romnesia," women in binders and Big Bird. But Fiorina's ad nonetheless set the stage for a new kind of election. Released less than a month after the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, it was an early harbinger of the high-cost, dark-money, all-meme-no-substance campaign that is rapidly becoming our political norm.
The current election cycle is on track to be the most expensive in history. Outside spending is increasingly negative; more campaign ads attack candidates than support them. Candidates themselves are less accountable to voters: President Barack Obama refused to meet with Iowa's venerable Des Moines Register for an endorsement interview unless it was off the record, and a poller for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whose fiscal plans are famously vague, said, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." As Columbia University professor Thomas Edsall recently wrote in the New York Times, "A Romney victory will make it possible for future candidates to take the same path of secretiveness. Non-disclosure could become the norm."
Substitute Obama—whose administration has been known to espouse transparency only when convenient—and it's still true.
We don't want to be all doom-and-gloom here (even though this issue does publish on Halloween). But we have to wonder: Which of these political sheep isn't a demon?
In the end, it's up to you. VOTE.
Our Endorsement Process
SFR sought to conduct interviews with candidates in every contested race. We did not conduct interviews in races where candidates are running unopposed. (For a list of those candidates, see page 18.) Only two candidates did not interview with SFR: Republican US Senate hopeful Heather Wilson, who declined an interview, and Democratic state Sen. Phil Griego, who did not return multiple phone messages and emails. Audio recordings of all other endorsement interviews are available on SFR's election page: sfreporter.com/elections.
Barack Obama, Democrat
Depending on whom you talk to, President Barack Obama has accomplished either too little (on immigration, global warming and economic stimulus) or too much (on health care and financial reform) during his first term in office. The truth is somewhere in between. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), while imperfect, is an important move toward reforming health care. Obama’s nuanced approach to foreign policy is advantageous, too—the last thing America needs is a blustering president anxious to create enemies. If an intractable Congress allows it, we can hope for immigration reform and a meaningful jobs plan during the next four years. Despite Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s business experience, his plans for the country are extremely vague—with the exception of undoing everything Obama has done. It’s just one indicator of Romney’s disinclination for transparency—and turning the clock back to 2008 is, quite simply, the opposite of progress.
US Rep. Martin Heinrich, Democrat
Attack ads may still be flooding the airwaves in New Mexico's Senate race (see page 23), even though US Rep. Martin Heinrich's voting record doesn't diverge significantly from that of his opponent, former congresswoman Heather Wilson. Since leaving Congress, however, Wilson—once a moderate Republican—has moved further to the right and been less than forthcoming about the private-sector work she's done, mostly for big-name defense firms and national labs. Heinrich is what New Mexicans need: an earnest, hard-working politician whose bipartisan views (don't believe the attack ads!) will serve him well in the Senate. Although independent candidates Jon Barrie and Bob Anderson both ran impressively low-budget campaigns, their views are more polarized. Heinrich's moderation is the best option to represent New Mexicans and help meet their diverse needs.
US House of Representatives, Dist. 3
US Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Democrat
When SFR asked Ben Ray Luján why he's running for reelection, the first words out of his mouth were, "This is about New Mexico." Sure, it's a sound bite, but over the course of his past two terms in Congress, Luján has shown a true commitment to New Mexico by advocating for clean-energy jobs, middle-class tax advantages, stimulus funding and health care reform. He has made a point of being accessible to constituents and is able to work not only with the rest of the New Mexico delegation in Washington, but also across the aisle. In a very broken Washington, Luján has the potential to be part of the solution.
Justice Paul Kennedy, Republican
Both Supreme Court candidates have extensive legal experience—Democrat Barbara Vigil as a judge in the First Judicial District; current Justice Paul Kennedy as a lawyer in a wide range of cases and courtrooms—and both promise to advocate for the state's underfunded judicial branch. But Kennedy's independent views (despite serving as Gov. Susana Martinez' lawyer on redistricting, he supports the idea of a nonpartisan redistricting commission) and more varied experience will, we believe, give him a deeper and more nuanced ability to interpret the law.
Judge J Miles Hanisee, Republican
Since his appointment to the New Mexico Court of Appeals last year, Judge Miles Hanisee has ruled on a wide variety of cases, issuing opinions that show him to be a thoughtful and even-handed jurist. While Democratic candidate Monica Zamora has honed her legal expertise in the children's court division of the Second Judicial District Court, Hanisee—a former assistant US Attorney, US Court of Appeals clerk and defense lawyer in private practice—brings a broader scope of experience to the bench, in addition to a more intimate understanding of, and passion for, appellate law.
Aubrey Dunn, Republican
Democratic state Sen. Phil Griego, who chairs the powerful Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, has held this seat since 1997. He declined to interview with SFR and, after the primary, told the blog Capitol Report New Mexico, "I didn't have any responsibility to talk to the media." But refusing to publicize his views is more of a disservice to voters than to the media, and suggests that Griego will be less than responsive to his constituents while in office. By contrast, Republican challenger Aubrey Dunn, a former congressional candidate and rancher, has independent views and promises to prioritize small businesses, education and—novel idea!—his constituents.
Why I Vote (Now)
By Brandon Ghigliotty
In February 2008, I was in Great Lakes, Ill.—in US Navy recruit training—when Vice President Dick Cheney visited our base. The red carpet was rolled out, and we recruits were organized in rows by order of achievement, with my division in front, outside the roped-off VIP area. We sat as instructed: backs rigid and hands placed carefully on our knees, unable to speak or express any emotion despite the pop music covers a live band played to get us worked up.
Cheney began his speech in typical fashion, thanking the list of people who needed to be thanked—base commanders, liaisons, Secretaries of Defense and Navy. He also thanked us for our service and for joining in a time of war. As he spoke, the recruit sailors behind him—who had been sleep-deprived as part of the basic training graduation event Battle Stations—began to doze off. Cheney’s words, powerful but hollow, echoed against a backdrop of sinking, sleepy faces.
At Recruit Training Command, I was taught to take pride in my nation and its flag—and I did. I was also taught to respect my chain of command, which was more difficult. I wanted individuals to earn my respect, yet I was forced to respect a president and vice president who guided our nation toward needless war, less individual privacy and financial uncertainty. I was forced to respect an administration that I neither agreed with nor voted for.
Over the years, I disenfranchised myself. I had decided that my vote did not matter, and never would. Until I enlisted in the military, politics didn’t interest me. But, once I saw firsthand how the decisions of the president impacted my life, my interest grew.
I have since witnessed a US Congress that does not serve the American people. In this “do-nothing” Congress, the Republican Party fights theological and ideological battles that have no place in 21st-century politics. As Americans, we must agree not to infringe upon the freedom of others. Then we can come to the consensus that, no matter our own individual views on abortion, it must be kept safe, legal and accessible. This is one example of how Congress has shifted the issues so that we must retrace our steps rather than continue forward. Neither Republican nor Democrat is free of guilt in this matter, and career politicians must be reminded of their duty to our nation. Reason has lost its place within the highest levels of leadership within this country.
At 27, I have finally registered to vote, but I feel unable to vote with my values, which are aligned with Libertarian and Green Party candidates more than Republicans or Democrats. I must either put aside my values and vote for the candidate whose vision of America I believe is more aligned with mine, or “throw away” my vote within our tragic excuse for a democratic system.
I will not vote in a way that jeopardizes the progress we have made as a nation. I will not vote in a way that diminishes the respect I hold for my nation. But, for the first time in my life, I will vote.
Brandon Ghigliotty is a student at Santa Fe University of Art & Design.
Stephanie Garcia Richard, Democrat
Although Republican state Rep. Jim Hall, whom Gov. Susana Martinez appointed last year, has shown himself to be an energetic and thoughtful legislator, challenger Stephanie Garcia Richard has the knowledge and passion to be a true game-changer. Her experience as an elementary school teacher in Pojoaque Valley Schools gives her a ground-level view of the challenges facing New Mexico’s education system, and she has pledged to work with the Martinez administration to pursue fair and effective reform. Her knowledge and experience around this issue will be a great strength for a district badly in need of better education options.
NM House Dist. 48
Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, Democrat
Libertarian candidate Bob Walsh tells SFR he's running because voters deserve a choice. That's true—and even though state Rep. Lucky Varela has served in the state Legislature for 25 years, during that time, he has served with honesty, dedication and expertise. Amid the partisanship that sometimes overtakes the Roundhouse, Varela exhibits independence and courtesy, yet continues to stand up for his constituents—evidence of his unique commitment to what's best for both his district and New Mexico in general.
Stephen Easley, Democrat
Before the primary election in June, SFR endorsed Stephen Easley, an IT entrepreneur and former Alamogordo city councilor, for the clarity and pragmatism of his views on education reform—a key issue in this large, diverse district—as well as in other arenas. Easley's intelligence, commitment to public service and experience cooperating with politicians of all stripes will prove invaluable to Santa Fe and surrounding areas.
Low-Profile, but High-Priority
Although most Supreme Court justices and judges on the Court of Appeals are appointed, New Mexico law requires them to compete in one partisan election and then to sit for a nonpartisan retention election every eight years—essentially, an opportunity for voters to confirm that a judge is doing a good job, or kick him out if he’s not.
—which means, even though they don’t have opponents, they need your vote! SFR did not interview candidates in judicial retention races. Instead, we’re publishing the recommendations of the state Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which conducts thorough research on each candidate. To read the full evaluations, visit nmjpec.org.
Richard Bosson: retain
Appeals Court Judge
Roderick Kennedy: retain
Appeals Court Judge
Michael Vigil: retain
1. Proposing an amendment to Article 6, Section 32 of the Constitution of New Mexico to provide for two additional members to sit on the judicial standards commission, a municipal judge and a public member.
SFR endorsement: AGAINST. At its current membership of 11, the JSC is big enough, and sufficiently represents judges’ interests. Any further increase merely adds to bureaucracy.
2. Proposing an amendment to Article 11, Section 1 of the Constitution of New Mexico to increase the qualifications for Public Regulation Commissioners.
SFR endorsement: FOR. PRC members are currently required only to be 18 years old, have lived in New Mexico for one year and not be convicted felons. Additional qualifications, such as minimum work experience or education, would improve the PRC.
3. Proposing an amendment to Article 11, Section 2 of the Constitution of New Mexico to enact a new section of Article 11 to remove authority to charter and regulate corporations from the public regulation commission and provide authority to charter corporations to the secretary of state.
SFR endorsement: FOR. Delegating the PRC’s corporations function to the Secretary of State’s office would simplify and clarify the PRC’s mission.
4. Proposing an amendment to Article 11 of the Constitution of New Mexico to remove the regulation of insurance companies and others engaged in risk assumption from the public regulation commission and place it under a superintendent of insurance appointed by the insurance nominating committee as provided by law.
SFR endorsement: FOR. Again, removing the insurance function would simplify the PRC’s mission and make the new insurance division more independent and accountable to constituents.
5. Proposing an amendment to Article 6 of the Constitution of New Mexico to add a new section that provides for the organization of the public defender department.
SFR endorsement: FOR. The creation of an independent public defender department is a much-needed change that will enable public defenders—whose mission is and should be separate from that of state-funded prosecutors—to advocate for their own funding.
BOND QUESTIONS (Statewide)
A. …Shall the state be authorized to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $10,335,000 to make capital expenditures for certain senior citizen facility improvement, construction and equipment acquisition projects…?
Especially with Santa Fe’s aging population, bolstering public facilities that serve senior citizens is essential.
B. …Shall the state be authorized to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $9,830,000 to make capital expenditures for academic, public school, tribal and public library resource acquisitions and construction…?
Libraries are critical to keeping the public educated and informed.
C. …Shall the state be authorized to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $120 million to make capital expenditures for certain higher education and special schools capital improvements and acquisitions…?
Not only will construction and improvement projects at higher-education campuses around the state (including the Santa Fe Indian School and Santa Fe Community College) make local higher-ed institutions more competitive, but it will also provide construction jobs.
BOND QUESTIONS (Santa Fe County)
1. Shall Santa Fe County issue up to $19 million in general obligation bonds payable from general (ad valorem) taxes, to acquire, construct, design, equip, and improve roads within the County?
Outside the city proper, Santa Fe County’s rural areas are badly in need of road improvements. The cost of this bond to taxpayers is approximately $19 per year in property taxes on a $300,000 house—a relatively minor expense given the potential benefit.
2. Shall Santa Fe County issue up to $10 million in general obligation bonds payable from general (ad valorem) taxes to acquire real property and necessary water rights for, and to construct, design, equip, rehabilitate, and improve water and wastewater projects within the county?
In both rural and urban areas, Santa Fe County needs better water infrastructure and management systems.3. Shall Santa Fe County issue up to $6 million in general obligation bonds payable from general (ad valorem) taxes, to acquire, design, construct, improve, equip and restore open space, trails and parks within the county?
As important as open space and trails are to both quality of life and economic development, the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners* has yet to develop a realistic plan for Santa Fe Canyon Ranch, the $7 million property the county bought three years ago. While County Open Space and Trails Program Manager Colleen Baker explains that the Canyon Ranch project "had nothing to do with the Open Space and Trails Program," SFR maintains that this money is better passed on as savings to taxpayers.
*Editor's note: A previous version of this article cited Santa Fe County, rather than the BCC, for failing to come up with a timely development plan for the Santa Fe Canyon Ranch. SFR nonetheless stands by its endorsement.
By Clara Hittel
I don’t know about you, but I’ve become far too familiar with Heather Wilson’s pristine kitchen, and I’m not even sure it’s real. I’ve grown equally weary of Martin Heinrich’s need to convince us that he comes home to New Mexico “almost every weekend.” We’ve all seen the current US Senate campaign ads, in which the two candidates spend the majority of airtime tattling on each other like schoolchildren, declaring that the opponent is “too extreme” or has “the wrong priorities” for New Mexico. While slandering your competition is a proud American custom, it’d be nice if more of the ads actually elaborated on the issues in question. Aren’t politics supposed to be serious?
While there are plenty of examples of how the puppet-masters behind the campaign ads pull our strings, we simply have to remember not to accept any of the claims at face value in what are essentially commercials advertising people. In the end, accurate and detailed information must be found elsewhere—which is why we’ve fact-checked three of the candidates’ key claims. Click here to read the other two, on jobs and Social Security, in an extended version of this article.
Issue No. 1: Bailing out Wall Street
Heinrich and Wilson toss the issue of Wall Street bailouts back and forth in their ads, referring to 2008’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. The government provided billions of dollars to help keep certain large financial institutions afloat (such as AIG, as mentioned in Wilson’s ad “Price”). Many of those businesses then put some of the money toward large bonuses.
Heather Wilson, who served as a congresswoman at the time, voted for the “bailout.”
Martin Heinrich was not yet in Congress, so he couldn’t vote on TARP. He claims he would have opposed it. A year later, when he became a congressman, he voted in favor of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the “stimulus”—which, in addition to its main purpose of stimulating the economy and promoting job growth, restricted the use of federal money for future bonuses. It did not ban the original TARP bonuses, however, and this may be the basis for Wilson’s claims that Heinrich “voted for the bill that let [the bonus scandal] happen.”
Clara Hittel is a student at Santa Fe University of Art & Design.
For this year's endorsement issue, SFR collaborated with students at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. The stories were written as part of a Real Stories journalism course, taught by former SFR Editor Julia Goldberg, and offered in the Creative Writing Department at SFUAD.
They explore a variety of aspects of the 2012 election cycle and speak eloquently to the issue of political engagement among young people. For more information on the class, visit Realstories2012.wordpress.com