Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Showstopper: Historic GOP Takeover Of NM House Steals Election Night Thunder, Martinez Coasts To 2nd Term, Balderas Leads Democratic Ticket; Udall Wins Over Weh 

The battle for control of the NM House of Representatives stopped the show Election Night. Actually it was the morning after Election Day--at 12:43 a.m.--when the state learned from our panel of experts at KANW 89.1 FM that for the first time since the election of 1952 New Mexicans had given control of the chamber to the Republican Party. The stunner set even the most seasoned observers back on their heels.

"I was not taken completely by surprised, but now that it has actually happened it seems surreal." So said former GOP state legislator Greg Payne as near-final Bernalillo County results came in to the station confirming what for so long had seemed so unobtainable.

Surreal may be the operative word when the 2015 legislative session opens in January. Now that the R's are like the dog who finally caught the car just what are the going to do with it? And will they be able to convince the Senate to go along with whatever they conjure up and send actual legislation to the Governor's desk?

Some Democrats were quick to dismiss the triumph as a fluke--the result of a national Republican wave and a low voter turnout. "We'll be back in two years," declared consultant Harry Pavlides.

We started the night with 37 Dems and 33 R's. We ended with 37 R's and 33 Dems.

This was a well-executed political coup played out in the full light of day. Democrats have been rolled ever since Governor Martinez took over and now they have been rolled over. For them it's about who will pick up the pieces that lay shattered at the feet of House Speaker Kenny Martinez who argued compromise with the Governor and her  political machine was the way to go. Now he goes--into the shadows.

As for who will be the Republican Speaker--the person who decides the agenda of the House--the names that sprouted up first were Rep. Don Tripp of Socorro and ABQ Rep. Nate Gentry. Gentry, the current House Minority Whip, was a key player in executing the House GOP win and is akin to a seargent at arms to the Governor's political machine. His personal baggage was unloaded on him by the Dems during his own re-election campaign but he won last night by 9 points. Maybe the southern conservatives who favor Tripp now back off? Suddenly, Santa Fe is a lot more interesting.

More on the blog on the House drama from veteran GOP consultant and pollster Bruce Donisthorpe, but first. . .


Governor Martinez made some history of her own Tuesday. Her 57% to 43% victory over Democrat Gary King was the largest margin of victory for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the 102 year history of the state. The win may have been overshadowed by the GOP House takeover, but she immediately went to work polishing up her national standing, telling her election night party in Spanish that "in America everything is possible." She also said that she had the "best political team in America," a nod to her political consultant Jay McCleskey who is often called the "Shadow Governor."

Martinez is the third governor in a row to get reelected and the third governor in a row to pursue national ambitions. It didn't work out so well for her predecessors. Will she break the mold or fall prey to the second term curse?


It's night and day in the New Mexico Democratic Party.  For the Dem senators and representatives it's always day and lots of dark nights for state Dems. And so it was again. Senator Tom Udall was garnering 55.5 percent in late returns. Republican Allen Weh was getting 44.49% That's a bigger win than the pundits predicted.

The two Dem US House members--Ben Ray Lujan up North and Michelle Lujan Grisham in ABQ-- scored easy wins as expected. Southern GOP US Rep. Steve Pearce turned back Dem challenger Rocky Lara in a big way. He got over 64% of the vote and squelched any talk of her coming back for another try.

But there was a ray of light for state Dems. Hector Balderas, the Dem candidate for attorney general and the only Hispanic Dem statewide candidate, led the Democratic ticket. In beating out Susan Riedel he garnered over 284,000 votes or 58%. Udall was drawing 276,000 votes.


It was still too close to call in the wee morning hours in the races for secretary of state and state land commissioner, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver was trailing GOP secretary of state Dianna Duran who has 52% to Oliver's 48%. Less than 200 votes separated Dem Land Commissioner Ray Powell and GOP challenger Aubrey Dunn as late returns continued to trickle in. A win in either would be another feather in the GOP cap. . .(Oliver lost her race when later returns came in. Dunn ended up a couple thousand ahead. Looks like a recount there.)

Tim Keller prevailed over Republican Robert Aragon and will become the next state auditor. Tim Eichenberg posted a victory over the GOP's Rick Lopez and will be the next state treasurer.


How about Manny Gonzales beating Scott Baird for Bernalillo County sheriff? He is the first Hispanic Dem elected to the post in the modern era. All the BernCo bond issues passed and so did an "advisory" measure asking the county commission to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. . . All state bond issues passed. Four of the five constitutional amendments were approved. The one that didn't required voter approval from 75% of the voters--instead of just 50%. . . Democrat Sandy Jones had a 500 vote lead over incumbent GOP Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Hall. . . No final turnout numbers yet, but voter turnout did not appear to go over 540,000. That is very low. About 608,000 voted in 2010. We'll update the numbers. . .(Jones defeated Hall in late returns).


Let the long knives come out on the state Dems who have given up so much. An Alligator strike appears to be in order and here it is:

Now that the election has passed Democrats must be waking up wondering what hit them. New Mexico Democrats need new leadership. It's anyone's for the taking but Democrats need to be careful to back some leadership that truly has the guts to take on the Martinez machine. House Speaker Ken Martinez, Tim Keller, Gary King, Hector Balderas, Maggie Toulouse, Martin Heinrich, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Ben Ray Lujan all took a soft approach to attacking the Governor and her ilk from 2011-2013 when it might have been unpopular to do so. But that was the best time to soften up the Governor and weaken her for 2014. Maybe these Cowardly Lions have suddenly found their courage; But if their past behavior is any indication of their future behavior they will continue to bow to the advice of their highly-paid consultants; which is: look out for your own self-interest and not do anything risky to upset anyone because your #1 priority is getting yourself re-elected. As long as that continues to be the case, the party will continue to stumble and look like the disorganized mess we saw on this election night.

So, what will Democrats say after election day 2014? After the Martinez machine ran up the scoreboard and increased Republican power in Santa Fe? Will Democratic leaders say we are going to work with this Governor and her new team in a bipartisan fashion or will they come out swinging and say they are ready to fight her, and fight her publicly at every turn? That's what national Republicans did to Barack Obama and look how that worked out for them.


As promised here's Bruce Donisthorpe with the play-by-play on how history was made last night. . .

Republicans pulled off one of the biggest political upsets since the last century. The year was 1952. America elected Dwight Eisenhower President of the United States and in New Mexico, Republican Governor Ed Mechem was re-elected and the state Republican Party took control of the NM House. Rep. Alvin Stockton of Colfax County was elected House Speaker for the Republicans. Then in 1954, it all went away as the GOP lost its majority – until 2014.

Republicans started Election Night trailing the Democrats 37-33 in the chamber. Two incumbents--one from each party lost early in the evening. Republican Vickie Perea (R-Valencia) – who was appointed to the strong Dem seat (HD-50) after the passing of former Rep. Stephen Easley (D-Santa Fe) in 2013, lost to Dem challenger Matthew McQueen of Santa Fe who reclaimed the seat for his party. McQueen was declared the winner almost immediately when the Santa Fe County Clerk posted the absentee/early results in the race. Down South, former State Rep. Rick Little (R-Dona Ana) re-claimed the seat (HD-53) he lost to retiring Dem State Rep Nathan Cote giving the Republicans a pick-up to offset their loss. It was apparent from the get-go that Little would win this race, but the Dems made Little work hard to win the seat.

Then the drama continued to unfold. Since Labor Day, it was clear the future of House control rested with two races in Albuquerque and two races in Dona Ana County, unless an upset rolled in. And what drama we witnessed as the campaign and election nite rolled on.Radio and television ads were put on the air in an attempt to influence voters in these races which would ultimately be decided by just a few hundred votes.

Republicans needed to hold their seat (HD-36, Rep. Terry McMillan) in Las Cruces and capture the remaining seats held by Dems (HD-34, Phil Archuleta (D-Dona Ana); HD-15, Emily Kane (D-Bernalillo) and HD-24, Elizabeth Thomson (D-Bernalillo). Republicans fielded well-known former incumbents in two of these races and an exciting new challenger in the North Valley of Albuquerque. McMillan had a tough win in 2012 against challenger Joanne Ferrary and braced for a tough rematch in 2014.

When the dust settled, the Republicans took all three seats as the two challengers reclaimed their former seats – Rep. Andy Nunez (R-Dona Ana) and Rep. Conrad James (R-Bernalillo) – and Republican challenger Sarah Maestas Barnes won her contest in Albuquerque’s North Valley. The Republicans got to 36 – a bare majority. Then came the extra point play.

Republicans pulled off an upset by taking out incumbent Silver City Dem Rep. Rudy Martinez as challenger John Zimmerman of Las Cruces won making the Republican count in the chamber 37-33 at night’s end. Outside interest groups entered the race in opposition to Martinez in the final campaign days and enabled Zimmerman to score the win on election day.

And that's how the House went red.


Well, after what we've all just been through this seems especially timely:

Join Common Cause New Mexico, ReThink Media, and the Thornburg Foundation for an insider briefing: “Fixing a Broken System: How to talk about the influence of money in politics and the solutions at our fingertips in New Mexico” November 10, 2014. RSVP to Heather Ferguson, hferguson@commoncause.org. Learn about efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics in New Mexico. . .

Hope springs eternal. . .

Thanks to all who participated in our KANW broadcast. Special notice to Miguel Gomez, Jason Hefley, Greg Payne and Bruce Donisthorpe for their outstanding reporting on the GOP House takeover.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author

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