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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tensions Rise in Dem Guv Race: Apodaca Accuses Party Of "Rigging" Preprimary For Lujan Grisham, Plus: Sen. Candelaria's stunning Rebuke of Dem Senate Leader Wirth; He Resigns As Caucus Chair; "I'd Rather Die Standing Than Live On My Knees." Strap Yourself In For the Wednesday Blog 

Jeff Apodaca
Tension is rising in the camps of the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates as the critical March 10 pre-primary nominating convention looms. Jeff Apodaca is going public with the friction and accusing the campaign of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Democratic Party of "rigging" the recent county ward meetings at which delegates were elected to the statewide convention. He told us he has video of a number of violations of party rules and will be releasing it to support his accusations.

Apodaca's campaign says it notified State Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg and BernCo Chair Bill Peifer of the alleged violations but said the chairs denied there were any.

Apodaca said he personally saw paid campaign staffers for Lujan Grisham's campaign helping ward delegates in Socorro and Torrance counties fill out their ballots when making their choice for governor, a practice prohibited by the party. He also said there was proxy voting permitted at some ward meetings when there's not supposed to be any.

Apodaca's charges that the party is rigging the pre-primary for Lujan Grisham comes amid speculation that she could chalk up a blowout win at the convention. Delegates sent there will vote on who to place on the June primary ballot. It takes 20 percent to win a spot but if a candidate doesn't make the cut they can file additional petition signatures to gain ballot access.

However, failure to make the 20 percent is almost always a death knell for a campaign. Money dries up and supporters grow discouraged. Only once in pre-primary history has a candidate won the June primary after failing to get 20 percent. That was in 2014 when Gary King did not reach the mark.

Apodaca says he is "very confident" that he will get the necessary 20 percent but if Lujan Grisham comes with something in the 65 percent area the race could be seen as a done deal. The other hopefuls, State Senator Joe Cervantes and Santa Fe's Peter DeBenedittis, could be in jeopardy of not getting official ballot approval if that scenario plays out.

2002 REDUX?

"Prince of Darkness"
Apodaca campaign manager Chris Khoury noted that in 2002 Bill Richardson played hardball in keeping Gary King and Ray Powell below the 20 percent mark, effectively ending that year's Dem primary Guv battle. Political strategist Dave Contarino worked for Richardson at that convention and he is working this time with Lujan Grisham. Khoury told us:

 I have worked with and like Dave but we call him the "Prince of Darkness." He will do anything to win and he and Michelle crossed the line this year." 

Contarino later served as chief of staff to Gov. Richardson. He now lives out of state.

Apodaca, a onetime UNM football star, is stoic in the face of his uphill climb:

I'm able to take the hit and get back up. We knew this was coming.

Well, none of the Guv contenders are taking off their helmets at this stage of the game.

CANDELARIA VS. WIRTH

A family dispute erupted among state Senate Democrats Tuesday with ABQ Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria resigning as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair and in the process delivering a rare and scathing public rebuke of a Senate Majority Leader, in this case Senator Peter Wirth.

We broke the news on social media of Candelaria's email critical of Wirth (posted here) that scored the leader for sending an email to his Santa Fe constituents boasting that "we stopped Senate Bill 47, a utility bill asking the state to securitize energy bonds."

Wirth and Candelaria
With that, Candelaria went ballistic and came with a stunning email takedown of Leader Wirth that he shared with fellow Democratic senators. It not only discussed a policy dispute over a complex bonding bill on behalf of PNM that Candelaria was sponsoring but revealed the ethnic tensions in the Senate:

. . . I have never seen legislative leadership message against a bill sponsored by a member of their own caucus. Your use of the collective "we" also implies that stopping this bill was a Democratic initiative/priority. This was not a utility bill. This was my bill.

Your email goes on to say that a problem with the bill was it "went too far by guaranteeing 100% stranded asset recovery.". . . In addition to the stranded asset recovery, the bill also included an increase in the state renewable energy portfolio standard to 50% by 2030. It also required that PNM re-invest nearly $20 million in the Farmington community for job training and economic redevelopment. 

. . .I believe it is the role of leadership to foster an environment where the diverse opinions and political beliefs of our caucus are respected. I do not see how attacking a Democratic member's bill in this way accomplishes that goal. I also respect that we can disagree about policy. We can debate bills, as I have certainly done, in committee and the floor. But I feel that claiming that the defeat of a Democratic member's bill is a key legislative accomplishment is something quite different than that. 

As such, I am resigning my position as caucus chair effective immediately.

(Your) email further confirms that diverse voices and opinions are not being represented, or empowered, in our caucus. I feel this is the right thing to do, regardless of the repercussions. As the old saying goes...prefiero morir de pie, que vivir de rodillas. 

(I'd rather die standing than live on my knees.)

Wirth kept his cool, reacting this way:

Sen. Candelaria has been a valuable member of our leadership team and I am sorry to see him resign as caucus chair.

It won't be the PNM dispute remembered from this flare-up but Candelaria baring the racial divide that has crept into the Senate since Wirth became Majority Leader. For the first time in memory Anglos hold the two top positions in the Legislature--Majority Leader and Speaker of the House. At the legislative session in January Candelaria spearheaded the formation of a Senate Hispanic Caucus, saying Hispanics are underrepresented in the government.

The Candelaira takedown was so scalding that it immediately led to speculation that he is done with the Senate and will not seek re-election in 2020 or if he does he will draw a primary opponent in his heavy Dem westside district. He was re-elected with no opposition in 2016. But he told us he is ready to defend his seat from all comers:

I’ve been a 100% supporter of early childhood and women’s healthcare access. I’ve passed bipartisan bills that have been signed into law that expand broadband access and bring more technology to schools. And I got a Republican governor to sign a bill banning conversion therapy. I’m proud of my record, and ready to run on it.

As for PNM's controversial bond bill, remember they won our 2018 Legislative Sore Loser Award when they took out newspaper ads slamming an environmental group that helped kill the bill. Our Facebook readers launched a spirited discussion of the measure in the wake of Candelaria's resignation from the leadership.

No guesses yet on who replaces Candelaria as Caucus Chair. It is not the most sought after of positions.

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