Wednesday, March 14, 2018

An Eventful Day In La Politica: House R Leader Gentry Leaves The Stage And So Does The Chairman Of The Dem Party; Complete Coverage  

Leader Gentry
Two high profile departures shook La Poltica Tuesday with one signifying a retreat in the fortunes of state Republicans and the other reinforcing a cultural trend that is impacting politics.

The decision of House Minority Leader Nate Gentry to not seek re-election to his ABQ seat which was only revealed when he did not file his official paperwork with the Secretary of State as required Tuesday. (All filings here.)

GOP consultant Bob Cornelius summed up the reaction in the political community:

That's huge!

Huge because Gentry cashing out is the ultimate symbol of the retreat from power of state R's as a Democratic trend led by the President's unpopularity is setting in for the November election. It also signals yet again compelling demographic changes that are casting doubt on the long-term prospects of the GOP in a state where they now seem like the proverbial fish out of water.

Gentry's far NE heights district is being gradually engulfed by a  sea of blue. He only won re-election by four points in 2016 and the same Dem opponent filed Tuesday to run again. Gentry also faced the prospect of leading a diminished minority next year and likely facing a Dem Governor. And we won't get into the negative campaigning that was about to be unloaded on him.

Gentry isn't the only R seeing the handwriting on the wall. ABQ GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes is not seeking re-election to her swing seat district and Rep. Dennis Roch of Tucumcari, a natural replacement for Gentry as minority leader, also took a pass on a re-election bid. (Look for Valencia County Rep. Kelly Fajardo to make a move to replace Gentry as minority leader).

The Gentry departure will coincide with the end of Gov. Martinez's eight years at the helm. They both arrived in 2011 and both will leave at the end of the year. Gentry formed a deep alliance with her political consultant Jay McCleskey and they employed hardball tactics and took advantage of a redistricting designed with a GOP Governor in charge. That put the House in Republican hands for two years following the '14 election and  Gentry sported the title of House Majority Leader before he turned 40. But later he  broke away from McCleskey and now both are in the political wilderness.

The Gentry departure is one of the last wheels to fall off the once mighty Martinez political machine. Not everyone thinks it had to be that way. Former Republican turned Democrat and former state legislator Greg Payne said the Machine got the demographics right by securing many Hispanic Republican for politics but:

They wasted seven years arguing over driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Their candidates had the right profiles but the wrong policies. No way was that Machine built for the long-term. Now we are entering an era where New Mexico will be much like California, dominated almost completely by Democrats and the party breaking into more sharply defined progressive and conservative wings.

Cornelius shares that view, pointing to the state's economy as a chief reason:

We don't have a robust economy that would be more Republican friendly. It has become more and more a welfare state as the economy has declined. Unless (Governor candidate) Steve Pearce can pull a rabbit out of his hat, I agree with Payne that New Mexico is going more Blue and staying that way for a long time.

The R departures from the House seem to nearly guarantee that the Dems will grow their 38-32 majority by at least one and maybe quite a bit more. And that takes us back to the secular political trend that is ready to take hold here.

With a legislature controlled by the Dems as well as the governorship, the legislative redistricting of 2021 might be called The Day of the Donkey. The possibilities include the southern congressional district becoming Democratic and the state House revamped to create even more Dem dominance.

Could anything stop the train that Gentry and others are jumping out of the way of? With Trump at the helm and the GOP locked down, the party is looking more defiant and ready to make a last stand and not change its ways. Reps. Gentry, Maestas Barnes and Roch know how that movie ends.


NM Dem Party Chair Richard Ellenberg is the latest to fall to the #metoo movement after putting his foot in his mouth. Ellenberg cast doubt on sexual misconduct allegations made against prominent Democrat and union leader Jon Hendry who Ellenberg happens to own property with. That came after a sexual misconduct flap with a Dona Ana Dem county commissioner in which Ellenberg was accused of trying to get the commissioner's accuser to back off.

Well, he's gone. The state's Dem congressional reps and SOS Toulouse Oliver issued a joint statement as they placed Ellenberg in his political coffin:

As Democrats, we stand with the silence-breakers who have come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Questioning the credibility of sexual misconduct allegations is contrary to our values, and it is time for new leadership that better reflects them. 

Of note is that the woman involved in the Dona Ana County case is Neomi Martinez-Parra, the vice-chair of the Dem Party. She will now become chairman and perhaps seek the permanent chairmanship when the State Central Committee fills the post. Others may compete.

So what does it matter? The parties are shells of their former selves with the campaigns running the show with their big money. Dem analyst and operative Israel Chavez explains:

The party plays a key function in organizational structure that supports the candidates when they're not running. 

Union chief Hendry was a key player in corralling cash for the state Dems but Chavez said the union money will still be there, no matter who heads the party. He adds:

The individuals come and go but having leaders that reflect Democratic values is essential.

Consultant Cornelius said he and many of his fellow R's thought the Ellenberg axing was an overreaction, saying he only defended Hendry, an old friend, and was not accused of misconduct himself.

Politics watcher Steve Cabiedes, without offering an opinion on Ellenberg getting the boot, opined:

We are living through a cultural shift. In the rush to change in some cases the punishment may fit the crime or may not. The hope is that in the long-term this period will end with fewer instances of sexual harassment.


Republican John Jones, the husband of ABQ GOP congressional hopeful Janice Arnold-Jones, filed to run for the Nate Gentry House seat. He had been running for the BernCo Commission seat vacated by Wayne Johnson who was appointed state auditor. Natalie Figueroa is the Dem hopeful for the Gentry seat.

Can City Councilor Brad Winter keep the Maestas Barnes House seat in GOP hands? He'll try but he will have to overcome Dem attorney and political newcomer Dayan Hochman. She specializes in aviation law. Winter's council district overlaps some with the portion of the House district in the NE Heights. If Winter wins does he have to leave the council to serve in the Legislature and would Mayor Keller get to name his replacement? The way we read the law he would.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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