Monday, November 07, 2005

The Quiet Candidate: Farmington Doc's Under The Radar U.S. Senate Bid, And: Going Gay: GOP Log Cabins Change Leaders; Plus: Big Bill TV Spot Reviewed 

He's raised over $141 thousand and is popping up on the campaign trail, but the GOP U.S. Senate candidacy of Farmington urologist Allen McCullloch has so far been an under the radar affair. So much so that Quinn McCord, state editor of the political bible--the National Journal's Hotline In D.C.--checked in late Friday asking us why McCulloch's fundraising wasn't mentioned in news dispatches that did report that GOP Santa Fe City Councilor David Pfeffer has raised $21,000 in his bid for the right to take on NM Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman. Beats me, but the news is out now. McCord reports that McCulloch met with national GOP officials in early October who called him an "impressive candidate."

Meanwhile, one of our blog contributors down south, Avelino Maestas of the Silver City Daily Press, let us know that the Doc was campaigning in his area last week. Being the political junkie that he is, Maestas even forwarded coverage of the visit by his competition.

The only mention until now of McCulloch's candidacy came on your blog in August (Hey Doc, send us a photo) but it's clear that he is a serious contender for the nomination and probably the frontrunner with his San Juan County base and the ability to so far outraise Pfeffer by seven to one. (Don't worry D's, Senator Jeff has $1.4 mil in cash already). If he does get the nod, he will likely join fellow M.D. James Damron on the ballot who is the R's favorite for Guv. Neither have any political experience, but that may be just what the doctor ordered in today's political climate.


Meanwhile, a GOP group that breaks with conservative orthodoxy on at least one issue continues to thrive. The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights advocacy group, now boasts over 200 NM members according to outgoing chapter president and local founder Patrick Killen. He's passing the leadership baton to ABQ's Michael Hills, but before he does he passes some thoughts on to us.

"I'm proud of the work that I've been able to do on behalf of NM Republicans who support equality for every American, regardless of sexual orientation. The activism of our members has been credited in-part for the veto of anti-gay legislation by the Navajo Nation President.

"Going from being an aide to a number of prominent state Republicans to a voice in the fight for gay and lesbian equality in 2004 was challenging, but I felt it was the right thing to do. One day, I hope to see my Republican Party regard homosexuality as a "non-issue" and get back to unifying issues like restraining government spending."

Killen did stick his neck out just as the national R's were effectively making gay marriage a hot button issue that helped them keep the White House. Still, if polls have it right the 20 somethings like Killen will indeed making sexuality a "non-issue" in the years ahead. However, they have a way to go. There has only been one openly gay elected official in NM--Liz Stefanics who served a term in the state senate from northern NM.


Do you think that Big Bill TV spot is pretty corny? The one that says his suits don't fit "but he sure fits New Mexico?" Well, you are not alone. They are pretty corny, but for the general public they work just fine, said most of the politicians I asked. They come at a sensitive time for the Big Guy. That ABQ Journal poll showing him at 53% approval among registered voters--probably higher among likely voters--has to shake up his political staff. The TV spot uses two cowboys as narrators and comes just as those tax rebates are popping up in mailboxes.

There is problem with the spot, however. It credits the Guv with accelerating the income tax cuts he got passed in 2003. That was actually done in the recent special legislative session over his objection. But he did grudgingly sign it.

The spot is the earliest in gubernatorial re-election history, but ex-State Rep Bengie Regensberg of Mora has talked of a Dem primary challenge to the Guv, and when you plan on spending a record-setting $10 million to win another four years, you might want to get started early.

Send me your comments, news, corrections and criticisms to the e-mail link provided on this page and thanks for tuning in today.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Big Bill By The Numbers: Latest Poll Is Dissected Like A Lab Frog; What Does It Really Mean? Plus: Wertheim's World: Top Dem Staffer To Exit 

Any sitting governor would be pretty pleased to get an approval rating of 53% as Big Bill did in the ABQ Journal poll conducted Oct. 13-16, (MOE + or -4.9%) and released Wednesday. But this isn't any governor. This is perhaps the most powerful one in state history; one with international stature who dominates the news. This is a governor who would be President. So when a poll shows 53% and not 63%, the natives get restless and opinions pour forth like the Spring runoff in the mighty Rio Grande.

It’s never easy analyzing polls, as much art as science, and it was doubly difficult this time because of who was polled. "Registered," not "likely" voters, made up the survey of 400 who gave the Guv 53% approval, 24% disapproval and 23% who said they were undecided or had "mixed feelings."

My first take on the poll yesterday was that the Governor was "leaking oil.” And he is compared with the low 60’s approval ratings he was getting. Now, is he leaking oil in the sense that the wheels are about to come off? Not very likely. But he has run up against the reality of New Mexico. There are plenty of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats who will keep any Democratic Guv in check.

Chiming in from his Fourth Floor Roundhouse office, Big Bill Chief of Staff Dave Contarino opined as the late afternoon sun set on the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. “You can put Donald Duck on the ballot against a Dem governor here and he would get 39%," half-chuckled the Guv's right hand man.

Still, the 53%, compared to the 63% he scored among registered voters two years ago, got the Republican blood pumping in ABQ State Rep. Greg Payne. "He is vulnerable. Is he in danger of losing the election next year? Probably not. But if the R's could get their act together they could make the race much closer than expected. Payne added: “The person with the biggest smile on their face is Hilary Clinton," a probable opponent of Big Bill's if, as expected, he seeks the Dem Prez nod in 2008.


Despite being a longtime Big Bill backer, veteran pollster Harry Pavlides said he agreed that the Governor has been leaking oil "but it is normal leakage for a governor in the third year of a four year term.”

“He can get his numbers back to the high 50's with the campaign he is going to run and by slowing down and not repeating the kind of mistake he did by getting that jet plane."

Pavlides’ educated guess on where the Guv stands with likely voters is 55% to 57%. "Joe, there is an unusually large number of undecided when you do a poll with just registered voters. Likely voters are more involved and more decided. Bill’s support will go up with them as will his disapproval rating." He explained.

But Payne was still spinning the other way. "The plane hurt but so has his focus on international and national issues as he positions for a White House run. This is a poor state. He needs to show more focus on issues here. Voters are starting to see him as disconnected from here and its hurting," claimed Payne as he set the table for the 06’ campaign.

Back on the Fourth Floor, Contarino tried another tack. "When people are asked if New Mexico is going in the right or wrong direction, they overwhelmingly say the right direction. That number is just as important as the approval rating,” he asserted.

Both Contarino and Payne disagreed with me that the Treasurer scandal may have had a role in the gubernatorial dip with Contarino maintaining there has been no dip because the poll make-up is not of likely voters. Besides, he spun, “the Governor showed strong leadership skills in handling the matter.“


Big Bill is a victim of his initial popularity and his larger than life personality. If he doesn't perform above average, he is faulted. Republicans have an interest in keeping the expectations high; that he should, as Payne put it, “poll approval of at least 60% everytime." If he fails the higher hurdle, they can claim weakness. And If he fails to meet the higher expectations next year the R’s will use it to dampen his national ambitions.

Still, there is danger lurking in the poll. The novelty of a governor running for President can wear thin when the stats keep coming in showing the state in the cellar. He was elected with high hopes and if voters see him straying, they can be quick to pull him back in. It's a balancing act that will keep Big Bill and his political advisers plenty occupied over the next year.


Word comes to us that Vanessa Alarid, the executive director of the NM Democratic Party will soon be leaving her post to return to school. Alarid has been at the center of a controversy that has swirled around state Party Chair John Wertheim this week. The New Mexican's Steve Terrell explores the Alarid angle more .....And from ABQ's City Hall comes word that Chief Administrative Officer James B. Lewis will soon retire. Lewis was mentioned a possible Treasurer replacement for federally-indicted Robert Vigil, but he did not make the finalist list...Republican Barry Bitzer has been named chief of staff for ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez. The job has been vacant since Chavez fundraiser Terri Baird left the post.

You know it's true. You write the blog. Send me your news tips and comments and keep the politics flowing.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wertheim's World: The Donkey Kicks; Report Over Dem Chair Has Them Out Of The Stables; The Blog Damned And Praised, Plus: Big Bill Leaks Oil In Poll 

Passions ran high Tuesday as Dems reacted to news reported here that former NM Transportation Secretary Judy Espinosa might, just might, consider challenging NM Dem Party Chair John Wertheim for his title. Never mind that Espinosa was only toying with the idea. It was enough to unlock the floodgates of emotion and the e-mail, some of it hot enough to scorch my eyebrows. But hey, that's why we're here, to bring you, without partisanship, the real workings of NM politics. It was a GOP intraparty fight that launched yer little ol' blog over two years ago. My ass was kicked red, but we got it right then and, dang it, we're going to get it right now. Not that this situation is similar, not by a long shot

First, about that Gang of 16, those who signed the now famous (or infamous) letter calling into question Wertheim's leadership. Several of them, led by Babara Wold, were hitting the ceiling saying that it was implied here that they were calling for the chair's removal. They emphatically said they were not. "We're not against or for Judy for Chair. It just never came up and our efforts weren't aimed at making it so. Who knows if there will be a challenge or not," clarified Barbara, after also labeling the blog "rambling and ill-informed." Hey, I've been called worse, but I feel sorry for the blog.

Also, not all the criticisms leveled against Wertheim--the court challenge he brought against Prez contender Ralph Nader and his support of tax cuts--were in the letter, but they are concerns expressed by other Dems.


Others continued whipping Wertheim saying they think a coup attempt is worthwhile. So while the Gang of 16 can speak for itself, remember there were over 100 central committee members who voted against John in April and thousands of "progressives" across the state who also have opinions.

Surely, an attempt to unseat Wertheim is highly unlikely. A close friend of Judy wanted to make clear that she is not anywhere close to launching such an effort.

"She has kicked the idea around and is exploring the possibility. She has heard the rumors and grumbling from dissatisfied members of the state central committee and county chairs, which made her contemplate the idea in the first place. But, I would not consider her quite as "serious" as your blog makes out. Exploring the option is more like it," penned the prominent Lady D who has seen her share of intraparty wars.

Speaking of which, a challenge, if it developed, would not be a rarity, as we were reminded from a party Alligator of long standing who also analyzed any prospective Movida against Wertheim:

"There are always rumblings in the party about removing the chair, be it Earl Potter, Ray Sena, Mary Gail Gwaltney or Diane Denish.

"We shouldn’t exaggerate the rumblings of progressives out of Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and ABQ. John’s strength is with the rural chairs and the Hispanic ward chairs in ABQ and Santa Fe. Also, party leaders such aw Madrid, Richardson, Denish and Udall, all want John in there. Throwing the party over to Judy would be a big mistake. She couldn’t even organize a petition drive to get herself on the ballot in the ABQ Mayor’s race," analyzed our insider.


Naturally, Dem heavies running for election next year do not want anything to change. Turmoil over party leadership makes for controversy, and the heavies can probably keep any seeds of rebellion from sprouting. But the fervor over the direction of the Dem party won't be stilled.

Tax cuts for the well-off are controversial among many party members. So is The tepid critique, or lack thereof, of the Iraq war. And, don't forget, New Mexico is now a Red state after the narrow 04' Bush victory. These are matters of import that can only be suppressed for so long.

Meanwhile, other Dem insiders were checking in with the news that NAtional Dem Chairman Howard Dean, who embodies the fissures present in the national D's, will not make it to the November Dem Central Committee meeting after all. Chair Wertheim was saying Tuesday the trip was on and would enrich party coffers. D.C. Dems were saying travel arrangements could not be made.

Hmmm. Dean not coming while some Dems make their unhappiness with the party chair known? OK. Let the conspiracy theories begin!


The ABQ Journal poll out today has Big Bill leaking oil, garnering a 53% approval rating, pretty low for him. I will seek comments and analysis for you. My first impression is that the Treasurer Vigil scandal is at least partially to blame for the dip. Stay tuned.

Thanks to all my e-mailers for their thoughts, criticisms and news. If you have some, there's a link at the top of the page.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween Scare For Dem Chair Wertheim; Gremlins On The Left Create Mischief; They Even Float A Possible Challenger; No Tricks, Just Your Tuesday Blog 

Dem Chair Wertheim
While you were out trick or treating last night and enjoying that last kernel of corn candy, politicos who stir their brews on the left wing of the NM Democratic Party were conjuring up some tricks of their own. For party chairman John Wertheim, the central target of this coven, Halloween 2005 was a scary night indeed.

Over the weekend 16 of the 350 members of the Dem Central Committee sent out their formal letter of complaint about Wertheim to the blogs, the papers and fellow committee members. But they saved their biggest trick for the spookiest night of the year, circulating word that Judy Espinosa, former NM Transportation Secretary and recent candidate for ABQ Mayor, just might work up a challenge to take over John's job.

What seems like an out-of-the blue move has been months in the making with Wertheim being blasted for a wide array of alleged sins including: not putting out an understandable budget, wasting party money by unsuccessfully challenging independent Prez candidate Ralph Nader's petitions to get on the NM ballot; by hiring a consulting firm for 30 grand that did not perform; and by not using his stroke to raise enough money for the party. All this on the heels of several staff dismissals at party headquarters that has the Alligators marching in Wertheim's direction at mach speed.

In light of all this, I canceled my Halloween plans which consisted of donning a Big Bill mask and scaring the hell out of the neighbors' kids by telling them I was running for President. Instead, I dialed up Chairman Wertheim who was on a final fitting of his scary Bush mask while his wife and Big Bill staffer, Bianca, was putting the finishing touches on her Heather Wilson get-up. They were headed out the door to pick up Robert Vigil and Sam Bregman when the phone rang and...

Judy Espinosa
Despite the flurry of charges, Wertheim was in a conciliatory mood saying the complaints did not pose a threat to either him or the party; that he is working to provide more "transparency" in party budgets; that the consulting firm the lefties are complaining about actually did a good job and that under his stewardship the Dems have raised more money than ever.

But that wasn't stopping the insiders from telling me that Espinosa is serious about a challenge; that she is seeking to meet with Big Bill and Light Guv Denish to outline her concerns and perhaps seek support for a long-shot chairmanship of her own.

"Judy is serious. We are unhappy with the direction of the party and think she could put it on track," informed one of her acolytes. Any challenge would wait until next year, reported another Alligator pushing a Judy move. Appropriately, Judy was staying as invisible as a ghost.

But ousting Wertheim would be easier said than done. He won a two year term in April with 60% of the central committee votes. It would take a special meting and, he says, a two-thirds vote to remove him. But he is anything but tone deaf and said he has been talking with the disgruntled letter signers to address concerns that he sees as valid.

"Most of this is insider stuff. But I do take seriously the complaint about the Nader challenge. That was a judgment call but I stand by it. Even though we lost in court, we kept his vote totals down," explained John who also said the challenge cost in the vicinity of 50 grand.


Wertheim agreed that the larger issue is the fissure in the party over such issues as tax cuts. "I supported the Governor's tax cuts and I took heat for it as he did. Some Democrats think I am too conservative. But this is nothing like the Republican infighting that has cost them dearly. This is more like a family discussion."

Wertheim said the Dems are positioned well for 2006, with the GOP on the ropes nationally and not doing very well recruiting candidates locally. He also said his relationship with the governor "is good."

"We are working hard to involve everyone in the party. Perhaps I have been a bit isolated in that I have been in politics a long time. Sometimes you lose sight of what it looks like from the outside," observed the chairman in his cellphone mea culpa. But, he noted, his detractors have surfaced after several party staffers lost their jobs.


The next meeting of the Central Committee is in Santa Fe November 19th and national Dem Chair Howard Dean, leader of the liberals and patron saint of the Wertheim complainers, is scheduled to attend. Wertheim is looking forward to having Dean there so he can fill the party coffers with fundraising cash and answer those who claim Dem cash raising has been anemic.

As for where the dough goes, Wertheim, a NM native and Yale graduate who has made two runs for the U.S. House, said campaign finance laws have become 'exceptionally complex,' but much of the information is available for viewing on the Federal Election Commission Web site and at the Secretary of State's office.

This Democratic Party brush fire may have been ignited by arcane rules and obscure issues, but it served to unmask the deeper issues facing the D's on All Hallows Eve: Whether the Dems need to push a bolder, more distinguished message as the campaign tricks of 06' get underway.

Remember to E-mail me your news and comments so we can keep the politics coming. Back tomorrow. Same time, same station.

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