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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The South Rises In Santa Fe As Rep. Cervantes Hoists The Flag, Plus: Are Dems Misdealing On Voter ID? 

Chairman Cervantes
It's true that New Mexico Hispanics have had a seat at the table of power in Santa Fe for generations. In fact, the entire legislative leadership this year(the four top spots) is Hispanic. But if you look closely at the hometowns you will notice that none of the heavyweights hail from the Southern NM. More Hispanic lawmakers come from the North so it's natural that they dominate. Still, Southern Hispanics have always felt a bit slighted, and its one reason the appointment by House Speaker Lujan of Dem State Rep. Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is putting some smiles on the faces down there.

The 44 year old Cervantes takes the helm at a critical time for the committee, dealing as it will with hyper-controversial DWI laws and voter ID proposals. For a time, informed sources report, there was a bit of a tug of war developing over whether the chair would go to Cervantes or ABQ's Al Park. Even though Al has seniority over Cervantes, the Las Crucean got the nod.

It didn't hurt that Cervantes waged a behind-the-scenes campaign for House Majority Leader, eventually yielding to Ken Martinez who may have seen the wisdom of giving a helping hand to his short-lived rival. Park was named vice-chair. What makes that interesting is that both Joe and Al have expressed interest in seeking the 2006 Dem nomination for Attorney General. Will their egos get in the way of their work?

THE CHILE CONNECTION

Cervantes gets high marks in the IQ department from lawmakers and some who have known him since he graduated form UNM Law School and went to work in 1991 for the high-powered Modrall law firm in ABQ. But the Cervantes roots are in Cruces. While they were passing down political power the past four generations in the North, the Cervantes family was passing down the family farm, mostly chile. This is no hand-to-mouth operation, and as Cervantes potential foes know, provides him with a solid financial base if he does indeed go after the AG's post.

The affable Cervantes, who I shared a late-night political conversation with at the famous Double Eagle restaurant in Old Mesilla not long ago, has firsthand experience with New Mexico power playing. He grew up near former Guv Jerry Apodaca. His first campaign was at the age of 15 going door to door for Jerry in 74'. Later he was a page in the state Senate.

The early handicapping on the AG's race is muddled with a bunch of candidates probably seeking to replace Patsy Madrid. But it's a good bet that Cervantes and Park will be near the top if they both run. The rap on Park will be that he is a pet of Big Bill and that the people want an AG who will be truly independent, like Patsy, not a tool of the Fourth Floor. The rap on Joe could be that he has not shown that he is a true team player when it come to Dem Party politics.

But that's all ahead. Right now, this favorite son of the South has been given a prime piece of Roundhouse real estate to tend. If he does it as well as his family grows chile, we may witness the emergence of a new player on that biggest of farms, the one known as La Politica.

A GOP GIFTHORSE?

Leader Martinez
Speaking of new House Majority Leader Martinez. Some politicos think he may be on his way to making another big error. Remember last year when he proposed an ignition interlock device on every car in NM, not just those owned by DWI offenders. That one backfired bigtime. Now the Grants lawmaker is saying proposals that would have voters give ID at the polls needs to be taken away to an interim committee for more study. It's really a way of killing the whole deal. But New Mexicans are highly supportive of voter ID. And going in to this session the GOP made it clear that it would be making the measure a banner proposal.

Martinez might want to talk to NM Dem Party Chair John Wertheim before he makes a final call on dealing a death blow to any voter ID bill. John was slapped around pretty good in last year's campaign over this one. The GOP is in dire need of some big issues for 2006. Will leader Martinez and Speaker Lujan give them some of what they are looking for? Stay tuned.

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