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The Early Birds

New Mexico politicians build momentum for 2010

July 27, 2009, 12:00 am

The governor appoints thousands of individuals to hundreds of boards, agencies and departments that administrate everything from roads to prisons to health care. He sets the legislative agenda in even-numbered years and special sessions, he has the ability to deploy the national guard and, ultimately, shoulders the blame if anything goes wrong on his watch. We say “he” not because it’s convenient, but because, as far as anyone can remember or has researched, a female has never before run for governor. Party-wise, it could go either way: New Mexico voters have not consecutively elected two governors from the same party in more than 25 years. The governor is paid $110,000 per year.

Diane Denish (D)
Status: Announced
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is the hands-down frontrunner in the Democratic primary for the governor’s race, which is why the Republican Party began running attack ads 17 months before the general election.

New Mexicans also previewed a Denish administration when she assembled a cast of hundreds—including New Mexico Tech President Daniel Lopez and Santa Fe Mayor David Coss—to populate her transition team back when Richardson was nominated for commerce secretary and it looked like she’d be taking over.

Denish’s administration has been marked by a focus on youth and family issues (Denish chairs the New Mexico Children’s Cabinet) but has also had a business and economic theme, with a recent emphasis on economic development and predatory lending. Denish’s roots in the conservative town of Hobbs offset her progressive leanings, which might otherwise be seen as too liberal for a statewide race.

The War Chest: $2.2 million as of July 2009, $512,000 of which was raised in the last three months. Denish has received tens of thousands from special interests and had to donate thousands to charity from contractors involved in the New Mexico housing authority scandal.

The Political Scale: 3.2 = Party Line. To an extent, Denish defines the party line, having led the delegation to the Democratic National Convention. But she has been considered an ally by the Legislature’s progressive wing and a guaranteed vote in favor of liberal cornerstones such as domestic partnerships and health care.

Shady Percentile:
32.6% shady. Journalists acknowledge Denish as a champion of ethics reform, but also say allegations of pay-to-play impropriety against her former running
mate Bill Richardson may have tainted her by association.

On the Web: Facebook, YouTube, Flickr,

Michael Sanchez (D)
Status: Exploratory committee
A state senator representing Belen since 1992, current majority floor leader and a lawyer, Sanchez would have to twist arms pretty hard and hold a lot of legislation hostage in order to undermine Denish’s widespread Democratic support. Further, some question his enthusiasm for the race: He announced his exploratory committee on Facebook and has been mum ever since. Progressive legislators consider Sanchez a moderate, even though Sanchez has leaned further to the left on social issues, defending domestic partnerships and leading the floor debate on the death penalty.

The War Chest: $59,000 according to his May 2009 annual report. In 2008, he raised $4,000, half of which came from ConocoPhilips.

The Political Scale: 2.5 = Moderate to Party Line. Sanchez isn’t considered as moderate as the rest of the Democratic Senate leadership, but in order to lead the Democratic caucus, he bridges the factions of his party.

Shady Percentile: 48.1% shady. Journalists cite Sanchez’ resistance to ethics reform—particularly webcasting and open conference committees—and note that his brother, former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, is a powerful lobbyist.

On the Web: Facebook

Allen Weh (R)
Status: Exploratory committee
A decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf, Somalia and Iraq wars, Weh’s service record is impeccable. His political record, not so much: As state party chairman (2004-2008), Weh was tied up in the US attorney scandal for complaining personally to Karl Rove about then US Attorney David Iglesias. Of course, Rove allegiance could be an asset, along with the other connections he’s made with the national Republican leadership. Nonetheless, New Mexico’s transformation from reddish to true blue on his watch could be a liability in the Republican primary.

The War Chest: Weh will not file his first report until Oct. 13.

The Political Scale: 3.4 = Party Line. As a recent party chairman, it’s only natural that Weh’s politics align with the statewide agenda.

Shady Percentile: 45.8% shady. Journalists indicate Weh’s involvement in the US attorney scandal as a top factor for his shadiness rating.

On the Web: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter (@allenweh2010), YouTube,

Susana Martinez (R)
Status: Announced
The 3rd Judicial District attorney isn’t easy to nail down: Susana Martinez began her career as a Democrat and switched to a Republican several years ago, but has worked well and collected the support of many Democrats in her district. The Doña Ana County prosecutor’s most prominent case is that of Baby Brianna, the infant beaten and raped by her family—Martinez secured maximum sentences for the abusers. District attorneys, unlike legislators, generally play their positions close to their chests, so Martinez has a long way to go in introducing herself to the voters on issues outside of criminal justice.

The War Chest: Martinez has $3,777, according to her December 2008 campaign finance report.

The Political Scale: 3 = Undefinable. Republicans don’t know what to make of Martinez. Some rank her as a Republican only in name because of her Democratic support. Others see her as a member of the extreme crowd—after all, she was a prominent member of the “Palin Truth Squad,” set up to deflect criticism of the unpredictable vice presidential candidate.

Shady Percentile: 23.4% shady. Several of the journalists polled aren’t familiar enough with Martinez to evaluate her, but those who are cite her vigilance in prosecuting public officials, including a county clerk and a magistrate judge.

On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@susana2010)

Janice Arnold-Jones (R)
Status: Exploratory committee
Many wonder why Arnold-Jones remains a member of the Republican Party since she always seems at odds with the leadership—whether she’s accusing the party of threatening her if she ran for Congress against Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White or breaking from her party on issues such as the death penalty. Arnold-Jones’ time in the House of Representatives has been more about fighting for competence, technology and transparency than specific items in the Republican platform.

The War Chest: $7,000 according to her May 2009 annual report. She raised $12,000 in the last year, largely from special interests and corporations, but in denominations no larger than $500.

The Political Scale: 2.7 = Undefinable. Similar to Martinez, Arnold-Jones’ score is an average of extremes: Some see her politics as non-partisan, while others feel she’s too much of a loose cannon to be taken seriously.

Shady Percentile: 13.8% shady. Journalists almost universally respect Arnold-Jones for her civil disobedience when she began webcasting committee hearings despite objections voiced by the Democratic leadership.

On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@janice4governor),

Doug Turner (R)
Status: Hired staff
The big question for public relations master Doug Turner is whether he can repeat his efforts in 1994 and 1998 when, as state campaign director and later campaign manager, he orchestrated Gov. Gary Johnson’s consecutive victories…or if he’ll repeat the massive failure of Steve Forbes’ 2000 presidential bid, for which he served as deputy political director. Richardson’s administration introduced international experience into state politics, and Turner holds advanced degrees in international relations, sits on various foreign-policy think tanks and boards, and lived in Japan. His PR firm has trademarked the phrase “strategies and ideas that win.”

The War Chest: Turner will not file his first report until Oct. 13.

The Political Scale: 1.6 = Barely Republican.

Shady Percentile: 50% shady. Journalists tend not to trust public relations professionals (aka “flacks”) and some claim negative personal experiences dealing with Turner’s firm, which has represented clients from Uranium Resources Inc. to the city of Albuquerque.

On the Web: No campaign web presence as of deadline

Heather Wilson (R)
Status: “Considering” a run, according to the Associated Press, but has taken no action
A Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate in international relations, Air Force veteran, former member of the National Security Council, former Secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, and five-time US representative, Wilson had wanted to add “senator” to her résumé in 2008.

Even though Sen. Pete Domenici endorsed her in the Republican primary for the seat he gave up, she was beaten narrowly by Rep. Steve Pearce, who attacked her for being a moderate Republican. Wilson’s congressional career has been a mixed bag: She made a big deal out of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl, challenged Donald Rumsfeld on his disdain of the Geneva Conventions and was implicated in the firing of US Attorney David Iglesias.

Since leaving office, Wilson has been training politicians in post-conflict nations in Africa on communications and constituent-services techniques.

The War Chest: Wilson’s Senate campaign has $7,502 on hand as of December 2008, none of which she can use in a state race.

The Political Scale: 2.7 = Party Line. Wilson’s independent and moderate streak worked for her when she was running a congressional race in the 1st District, but worked against her in the statewide primary for US Senate. Ultimately, her voting record shows her more closely aligned with the party line than her reputation warrants.

Shady Percentile: 31% shady. Journalists see her involvement in the US Attorney scandal as merely a “smudge,” but did express concern that Wilson became less transparent (read: less available) in her last years in Congress.

On the Web: Facebook

Pollster Prediction:
“Diane Denish is the frontrunner and could win comfortably,” Sanderoff says. “She’s got the name recognition…Michael Sanchez would be at a terrible disadvantage with fundraising…On the Republican side, all eyes are on Heather Wilson and what she decides to do will dictate the nature of the race. If she runs, I believe many of the Republicans who are strongly considering running will think twice. If she should decide not to run, then I could see, conceivably, all those people will stay in, and perhaps even more will enter.”

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