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Thursday, November 15, 2007

House Speaker Lujan: He Won't Support Easier Rules To Make '08 Primary Ballot, Plus: Speaker's Son In Congress Dust-Up, And: Luvin' Dick Cheney 

Speaker Lujan
Chances of a candidate free-for-all in the epic election year to come are capped, and it looks as though they are going to stay that way after listening to NM House Speaker Ben Lujan. I asked him if the 2008 Legislature should reinstate the law that allows candidates who are denied a spot at their party's March pre-primary conventions to instead win a place on the June primary ballot by gathering extra petition signatures from voters. He replied: "I don't believe we need to do that." And that appears to settle the matter. Such legislation is not going to go anywhere without Speaker Ben's blessing.

With a candidate needing a minimum of 20% of the delegate vote at the pre-primary to make the ballot, theoretically only five candidates could make it on for an individual office. And that's if they all received exactly 20%. More likely, three, maybe four at most, will qualify for the primaries for the federal offices including three open US House seats.

Some of the lesser-known candidates are not happy about possibly being denied the right to get on the ballot if their convention rejects them. The petition provision was dropped by the Legislature last year, with no explanation from the Secretary of State. Grumbling has been heard that a candidate denied by a party convention could go to court to try to overturn the law, but most experts see that as a long shot.

Speaker Lujan's son, Public Regulation Commission Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, is a leading candidate to replace northern NM US Rep. Tom Udall. The Speaker's anti-petition position will be seen as favorable towards his son's run, but it is supported by other top R and Dem leaders who say they want stronger political parties and the 20% requirement with no petition provision helps get them there.

Rep. Jose Campos told me he planned to introduce legislation to reinstate the petition option, but with the Speaker's position against it, that may be academic. Also, any such legislation would have to garner two-thirds support of the House and Senate in order to take effect before the March pre-primary conventions. That would be unlikely with even the Speaker's support.

Most newcomer and wanna-be candidates are going to fall by the wayside well before the mid-March confabs. A few will survive. For voters, the advantage is not having to wade through non-serious candidates on primary day. Others argue abolishing the petition option unnecessarily limits choice.

MORE SPEAKING SPEAKER

On another matter bugging state politicos, Speaker Lujan said he would support legislation that would ensure a party's pre-primary convention did not end in a stalemate. He spoke of the concern that a dozen candidates could file for the Dem nomination for the northern congressional seat at the pre-primary and none of them win the required 20%, leaving the party with no nominee.

"I think we can look at a run-off or other method to remedy that," said Lujan. He agreed that such an event would be extremely unlikely, but because the issue exists, it should be addressed. With Lujan's backing, we can count it done.

LUJAN THE YOUNGER

Ben Ray Lujan
Meanwhile, our Wednesday blog on Ben Ray Lujan's planned congressional run brought out the Alligators. They asked whether Ben Ray would pledge to not seek re-election to his PRC seat while making a run for the House seat.

Lujan, whose four year term expires at the end of 2008, said he would not resign the PRC to seek the congressional chair, but added: "I promise to run for only one office. That is the fair and right thing to do."

Conceivably, Ben Ray could file for the congressional seat without taking off the table the possibility of later seeking re-election to the PRC seat if his House bid went bad. With his statement he ended that possibility. And why not? He is not going to have any problem winning a spot on the June primary ballot at the pre-primary convention and will be a leading favorite to take the House nomination.

A trickier matter for the 35 year old could be campaign contributions. PRC commissioners are restricted by state law from taking money from utilities and other industries they regulate. So, will he accept contributions for his US House run from industries he regulates?

"I pledge to follow the law," he said several times in response to prodding.

Current law does not prohibit him from taking such contributions for a federal campaign, and Lujan's statement indicates he will. It will likely be a campaign issue. For example, a big rate case from PNM is pending before the PRC. If Ben Ray accepted money from the electric company for his Congress run, would it present a conflict of interest?

Lujan says his ethical conduct has been above reproach and will stay that way, but he is not going to rule out taking industry campaign money. He did say: "Campaign finance reforms are necessary for federal races."

So far the young Lujan stands to face Santa Fe's Javier Gonzales, Don Wiviott and Harry Montoya for the nomination. A Gonzales supporter calls Lujan's decision to take money from industry he regulates "disturbing." Will voters also? That's why we have campaigns.

LUVIN' CHENEY

They won't let her have it. As Heather Wilson prepares to host Veep Dick Cheney at a Capitol Hill fund-raiser tonight, her rival for the GOP US Senate nomination, Rep. Steve Pearce, lets word out through operatives that "the Vice-President will be attending a fundraiser for Rep. Pearce, though we still don't know when and where."

Heather, you may recall, announced shortly after getting in the race that Cheney was doing a $2300 a pop fund-raiser for her and left the impression that it was an endorsement. But the event had actually been sent up before she announced for the Senate and was originally meant for her US House campaign. Pearce's camp was quick to point out that the Veep was not slighting them. Meanwhile, all you Democrats are scratching your heads over how zealous Steve and Heather are to show a relationship with the unpopular Cheney. Let's just say it's a Republican thing.

WHITE IN COLOR


An insider checks in with the news that Bernalillo County Sheriff and GOP US House hopeful Darren White has hit the six figure mark in his fund-raising. "I can't tell you exactly how much, but it is six figures," said the insider.

That means at least $100,000 for two term sheriff Darren who is hoping he does not have to use it in a contested primary for the seat being vacated by Heather Wilson. So far, luck is with him as two possible foes, ABQ State Senator Mark Boitano and State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, have backed away from bids. Senator Carraro continues to toy with the notion, but is not in.

White has spent a few of his newly raised dollars on a Web site that went up this week. There's nothing there on the issues yet. Like Heather, Darren is going to try to position himself as an "independent" Republican in the majority Democratic district. His campaign slogan is "integrity and independence."

THE BOTTOM LINES

In case you missed it, ABQ's Eclipse Aviation is back in the news and it isn't pretty. There's no need to worry about that $19 million investment taxpayers have in that deal, plus millions in other incentives, is there? Perhaps the Legislative Finance Committee should be asking?...

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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