Wednesday, September 24, 2008

GOP Meltdown: Fernando Tells Weh He Won't Go; Party Appears Rudderless As Players Ponder Future; Can They Get It Together? 

Weh & C de Baca
A post-apocalyptic version of the New Mexico Republican Party emerged Tuesday even though the apocalypse--if it comes--is some 40 days off. Bernalillo County GOP Chairman Fernando C de Baca defied NM GOP Chair Allen Weh and the party establishment, refusing to resign over racially charged comments he made, and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it. That includes NM Senior Senator Pete Domenici, whose imminent departure from the halls of power is exposing the raw nerves and the outlines of the coming struggle for power in the state's minority party.

Weh has been stomping his feet for days, demanding that Fernando go and he was joined by Domenici. But C de Baca, arguing he was quoted out of context when he made his controversial remarks to a BBC blogger--“Hispanics consider themselves above blacks. They won't vote for a black president”--held his ground and was backed up by his executive committee at a morning meeting that was followed by an afternoon news conference by Weh.

Weh maintained he had the power to get rid of Fernando, a contention that Fernando's camp disputed. But instead of firing him, Weh said he would send a committee of R's to try to talk C de Baca into calling it quits. The county chair was hanging tough, saying he wouldn't go, although he did leave wiggle room in an AP interview. "This whole thing is still under discussion. I want to do what's right for the party. I still have some discussions to be had with our state chairman so we can try to iron out any concerns that still might exist," said C de Baca.


C de Baca's out-of-bounds comments were sucking most of the oxygen out of Campaign '08, but it was Domenici's inability to control the situation that really jarred the political community. It signaled that a free-for-all could ensue when he and ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson leave at year's end.


C de Baca supported Steve Pearce for the GOP US Senate nomination, not Wilson. Pearce was silent on his friend's predicament, and Heather didn't say anything either. However, the fellow with the most to lose, ABQ GOP congressional contender Darren White, was downright boisterous in his condemnation of C de Baca calling his comments, among other things, "ignorant" "reprehensible" and "outrageous." He said he would have nothing to do with the county party as long as C de Baca remains as chair.

The incident breaks two way for White. C de Baca has become the media poster child for racism and that could further tarnish the already tarnished GOP brand. On the other hand, this gives White a chance to play to independent swing voters by separating himself from his own very unpopular party. It's the same thing he did when he broke with GOP Governor Gary Johnson over Johnson's call for legalizing certain drugs.


Most R's we spoke with were annoyed that the incident flared out of control. They argued that Weh should not have publicly demanded C de Baca's resignation because that is what got Fernando's back up and made him dig in his heels. "This whole thing is a distraction and should be dropped by the state party," urged longtime R Kurt Lohbeck.

It seemed Weh might be of a mind to do just that. If he tries to oust C de Baca and he is legally challenged, the issue might go to the Bernalillo County GOP Central Committee. What a spectacle that would be in the middle of the campaign--a couple of hundred mostly Anglo Republicans arguing about race. Talk about apocalyptic.


The 70 year old C de Baca is the keeper of the flame for a large group of R's who have chafed under Weh's rule. They have argued that Weh, with the help of Domenici and Wilson, have kept the party in the hands of the few. They argue for more inclusion and less emphasis on the wealthy and more on rank and file Republicans. But some of them think a wealthy oilman from Roswell--Mark Murphy--would be an ideal candidate to take over leadership of the split GOP. As we mentioned yesterday Farmington doctor Allen McCulloch and current NM GOP Vice-Chair Jon Barela are a possible chair contenders who are supportive of Weh who is not seeking re-election.

But if there are any new faces waiting to come into the game, they will wait until after the election. "Sometimes its best that the village get completely burned. That way you rebuild from the ground up," offered one of our GOP Alligators pacing the riverbank and waiting for his turn to strike.


Insiders report Senator Domenici and C de Baca did finally talk over the phone Tuesday, but there was little accomplished. We're told the conversation ended with Pete telling C de Baca that the race comment problem is one to be worked out between him and Chairman Weh. For his part, Pete appeared to be pulling the plug on any further involvement.


More comments of C de Baca's were released Tuesday from that BBC interview--this time they were recorded. In them, the 70 year old talks about Blacks benefitting more from civil rights reforms than Hispanics. As if Fernando needed any more gasoline on his bonfire.


The Dems were of a mixed mind about the mind-boggling developments in the party of the elephant. They know C de Baca and the GOP aren't looking good. At the same time, anytime the issue of race is front and center it detracts from the debate about the economy--their strongest issue--and it also reminds voters that Obama is the first African-American presidential candidate. Judging by the relatively low-key response most D's had, they, like their Republican counterparts, would like to move on. So would the entire state.


It all broke loose Tuesday in TV land as the national GOP and Dem congressional committees hit the state with a variety of ads for the ABQ and Southern US House races. It appears the Dem nationals will outspend the R nationals by two to one in the southern CD.


Reader Mike Parks is a Dem who knows how to put the needle in.

I would like to offer myself for the position of state GOP chair. I'm a life-long Democrat, but with the current efforts of their national party to socialize Wall Street and its millionaires, I would have the appearance of a Republican moderate.

Not all R's are out to nationalize, Mike...

Wouldn't you know it? During one of its highest-profile weeks ever, the Web site for the Bernalillo County Republican Party is down for maintenance. Well, they probably wouldn't be doing much recruiting right now...

Reader Jose Campos in Valencia County asks for some space to plug this: Valencia County welcomes former U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy at The Holiday Inn, 2110 Camino Del Llano, Belen on Sunday, September 28th at 4 p.m. . This is, of course, an Obama gathering...

And this is, of course, the home of New Mexico politics with Joe Monahan reporting and blogging to you from Albuquerque.

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