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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March Mayoral Madness; Crazy-Quilt System Has Candidates Scurrying; Chavez Awaits Challengers, Plus: State Senate On The Air And In Need Of Rogaine 

Romero & Berry
What if they gave a mayor's race and nobody came? Foes of ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez began to confront that bizarre possibility Monday as they digested the news that City Councilors O'Malley and Cadigan had dropped their bids. And they fretted that it is no sure thing that Dem Richard Romero or Republican Richard Berry will be able to qualify for the all-important public financing that will define a viable campaign in the '09 cycle.

Moving to tamp down pessimism about his chances of getting the needed 3,280 five dollar individual donations to qualify for $328,000 in public funds, ABQ GOP State Rep. Berry described himself to me late Monday night as "optimistic" that he will collect the necessary donations, although he called it a "high hurdle." He said he expects his effort to qualify for public financing "to go down to the wire." His comments came following the councilor drop-outs and our blog that reliable sources report Berry has collected perhaps about 1,000 of the needed donations. The rep has not released his numbers. Former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson recorded an "auto-dial" phone call on behalf of Berry and the state GOP continues to work on his behalf.

Campaign professionals are still sceptical that Berry, who has run a construction company with his wife, would make the grade because of the looming deadline--March 31st--for submitting the donations and because of the lawmaker's late entry into the mayoral derby. But ABQ R's--fearing no GOP candidate on the ballot for the first time in modern city history--recruited Berry, 46, and took to the talk radio airwaves Monday in an effort to drum up enthusiasm for the run. They think they have enough time to get him in. The deadline is two weeks from today.

Supporters of former Dem State Senator Richard Romero, most recently a Santa Fe lobbyist, had more reason for optimism. Backers of O'Malley and Cadigan who gave $5 dollar donations to them can now be asked to give to Romero and help put the candidate favored by city liberals over the top. His campaign manager, Neri Holguin, has told us she believes the campaign is on track to meet the finance requirement.

Another angle is also being discussed. If you fail to qualify for public financing, you could still make the ballot by gathering the needed 6,500 petition signatures. It is possible, if not likely, that a candidate could qualify for the ballot but not the public financing. Rep. Berry would not rule out that possibility. "We'll cross that bridge if we come to it," He remarked. But call it a long shot.

So, you say, if a candidate doesn't get the public money, why not just collect private campaign money? Well, the pros say the new campaign law is so restrictive that raising hundreds of thousands in private donations is nearly impossible. That's why Mayor Chavez, who raised a whopping $1.5 million in private money in the '05 cycle, has opted for public financing.

Okay, if you don't qualify for public financing and can't really conduct a campaign on private money, how about if you pay for it yourself? Well, how many people want to put up $400,000 or more of their own money needed to run a competitive race? Developer Rob Dickson says he will privately finance, but no one expects him to come anywhere near $400,000. And first he needs to get those 6,500 petition signatures to make the ballot.

HOW DID YOU DO IT, MARTY?


Conspiracy theorists were speculating about how Mayor Chavez was able to so quickly gather over 5,000 five dollar donations while the other candidates were having such a hard time. His campaign says there is nothing mysterious about it. "The mayor has a data base of supporters that goes back twenty years--to the time he served as a state senator. We began organizing about a month before the kick-off for collecting the donations," said Chavez campaign manager Mark Fleischer, who had experience with public finance requirements when serving with the Arizona Democratic Party.

Fleischer dismissed as "sour grapes" back room charges being bandied about that Chavez somehow violated the rules in gathering his donations. "You can check all of our donations at City Hall. Everything is above aboard and we are proud of our volunteers and the hard work they've done," declared Fleischer who hangs his hat with the Butch Maki Santa Fe lobbying firm

One of our Alligators said he was at an America Legion post when the Chavez campaign was active getting those donations. He said the wife of a city employee came in with the forms and sat down and invited people to give, and they did. That routine was repeated at various locales around the city by the Chavez forces. The mayor had a party to collect the donations. Dozens showed up to turn them in. It is no surprise that many of the volunteers were city employees or related to city workers, but that is not against the rules.

WHAT HAPPENED, ANYWAY?

Griego
Ironically, it is liberals now most upset with the new public financing system, calling it onerous and worse. But it was liberal City Councilor and now Dem State Senator Eric Griego who spearheaded the cause and voters who approved it by City Charter amendment. Griego was one of Chavez's most fervent foes ever, running against him in the 2005 mayoral battle. Griego wanted to take big development money out of city campaigns--money that went heavily to Chavez. But Griego's reform (wholeheartedly supported by ex-candidate and Councilor Cadigan) appears to be giving developer-favored candidate Chavez a clear edge in the early going. Now that's an example of the law of unintended consequences.

But the campaign is far from over. If Romero and Berry both manage to make the ballot, Berry could eat into Marty's conservative support, giving Romero a shot. Or Berry could do more than eat into Marty's conservative base, making him the frontrunner. No matter. The Chavez challengers will need money to make a race of it and keep His Honor below 40 pecent of the vote which is the magic number for him to retain power. If no one gets 40 percent, we have a run-off election a month after the initial October 6th balloting.

Whether the new campaign system is in need of reform or not is a debate for another day. Right now, who will get a shot at leading Albuquerque into the future depends on who can step up and earn a seat at the table at which Chavez dines.

WATCHING THE WEB


The NM Senate began webcasting its floor sessions Monday, but it didn't seem to inhibit Dem Roswell State Senator and President Pro Tem Tim Jennings. We heard him describe some government programs as "half-assed." However, despite the presence of the web camera, we didn't see him say it. The camera is stationary and it shows mainly the balding heads of a few senators. If you squint, you can see Lt. Governor Denish as she presides over the body from the front of the chamber. The hyped webcasting is more like an audio stream. In fact, it's something Senator Tim might call "half-assed." Still, the webcast is welcome and long overdue. Maybe it will even help the economy by sparking sales of Rogaine among the hair-challenged Senators in camera's range.

REPUBLICANS--NOT IN THE HOUSE?


Now more perspective from the storied Roundhouse as a well-informed Dem tackles the role Republicans are playing in the House this session:

My greatest impression of this session is the utter absence of any Republican presence in the House. The warriors, strategists and debaters on the right side are all gone. Practically no debate of any consequence. No rules challenges. No challenges to the majority party or the Governor. No political setups in the votes or floor actions. No political points scored.

With their numbers down significantly, and without (Former State Reps) Dan Foley, Justine Fox-Young, and Eric Youngberg, the Republicans are a hollow shell of their former selves. There is no longer a two party structure in the House...Of course the Republicans now do all their work in the Senate, where they are still in the game.

And you don't even have to pay to get this stuff.

We can only add in defense of the House R's that they are not as cozy with Big Bill and certain lobbyists as were the GOP trio mentioned above. In past years that compromised the party. The GOP has a shot to give itself definition in Santa Fe, but they do need some trigger men and another legislative session.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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