Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cabinet Secretary Heads For Exits; Politics Ahead? Plus: Heinrich Does D.C. Circuit, And: Heather Stiffs Press On Iraq; How Would We Handle That? 

Sec. Lujan Grisham
New Mexico Secretary of Health Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the end of a somewhat tumultuous tenure Monday, resigning her post effective June 11 while toying with the idea of a run for the ABQ congressional seat held by Republican Heather Wilson. Negative headlines surrounding her personnel decisions will not help the UNM Law School graduate and 18 year veteran of state government launch a political career, but she rebuts her critics by telling me she "has made the tough decisions" necessary to challenge the status quo and move the department forward. The lone Democratic candidate for the ABQ congressional seat, City Councilor Martin Heinrich, already looking over his shoulder for a possible Hispanic challenger (or female), had to feel hot breath on his collar as Lujan Grisham played political tease, even if nursing a few wounds from her tenure. (She will be replaced by Dr. Alfredo Vigil, Chief Executive Officer of El Centro Family Health.)

Michelle's relationship with Big Bill was an element of the late Monday speculation, with one Gator reminding us it was on this blog in December that speculation surfaced that the Guv had asked her to return to her old job as head of the state agency on aging, but that she reportedly balked. She told us Monday she was not asked to make a switch and that she leaves the administration on "good terms," while acknowledging she is "a tough cookie."

The outgoing secretary, who was born in Los Alamos and moved to ABQ for college and stayed, deflected speculation that she is not serious about seeking political office and was trying to divert attention from the personnel controversies that plagued her in recent months. She said she has put off politics in the past, but has long had the political bug. She is not announcing a run for a specific office, she said, because she wants to consult with advisers on what would be her best bet. Among those advisers is Lt. Governor Denish who has urged her to run for office. Lujan Grisham, 47, whose late husband was an ABQ attorney and who has two teenaged daughters, does confirm that it is the congressional seat that is highest on her list. By the time the calender turns to August she'll have a decision.


If Lujan Grisham does dive into the political pool, she won't be the first in her family to do so. Her grandfather, Eugene David Lujan, was the first Hispanic New Mexican to serve on the state Supreme Court, having been elected in 1945 and retiring from the bench in 1959. She does not believe she is related to NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, but her branch of the Lujan's does have ties to those of former NM GOP Congresssman Manuel Lujan.


Meanwhile, back on the Heinrich front, he winged to D.C. last week to introduce himself to the powers-that-be at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee(DCCC) which can't take sides in a primary battle, but can surely create buzz for a candidate they see as a strong challenger.
"I wanted to show these folks that I am a credible candidate and I think I accomplished that," explained Heinrich.

Besides the aforementioned Lujan Grisham, still out there as a possible Dem candidate is former UNM President Louis Caldera, but because he is a non-native Hispanic and one who was dumped from his prexy post, he is generating little buzz. Insiders tell me they expect a seriously contested primary to cost in the area of $400,000 and maybe more. Heinrich is now concentrating on fund-raising, trying to scoop up cash while he is the only announced candidate.

"The DCCC advised that I go home, clear the field and come back and see them when things have settled," informed the councilor. Well, warm up your John Deere, Martin. There seems to be a number of fields in need of clearing.

Raising money is one way of clearing a field. Heinrich, 36, will file his first fund-raising report in July and if the figure is impressive, it could settle the issue of a primary challenge. No matter how much he or any other Dem candidate raises, Heather will again likely have the advantage. Despite protestations from one Wilson operative, Dem money mavens say when you add up the cash spent in the two year '06 cycle--including the massive independent committee expenditures---Dem Patricia Madrid was clearly outspent as she told me in a recent interview. The issue, however, may be academic. With so much money being thrown by both sides at the race, the saturation point is quickly reached.


Her constituents will be either baffled or outraged by Wilson's refusal to answer questions from the ABQ Tribune regarding her stance on Iraq war policy. All other members of our congressional delegation did. Wilson issued a statement on the latest round of Iraq House votes, but refused to stand for questioning. This is the side of Wilson that prevents her from sealing the deal and getting off with no serious re-election challengers as did her GOP predecessors Manuel Lujan and Steve Schiff.

Stiffing the press on the #1 issue in the USA is outlandish, but if the press is going to take it, they are going to keep getting it. Back in the day, when we were on the daily beat, a refusal from a politician to comment meant all bets were off. We put the posse on them, refusing to quote them on any other event until they addressed the issue they were evading as well as repeatedly broadcasting their evasion. Soon, the offending politico and their press flacks were begging to talk.

Heck, maybe we should round up Larry Calloway and other old school types, get a contract from the papers and head to D.C. guaranteeing that we'll have Heather talking like a chatterbox within 72 hours. That's 71 hours to party in Georgetown on our expense account. Our team would need just an hour to cure Heather's congressional lockjaw.

Have political news? Gossip? Comments? Send them our way via the email link at the top of the page.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author
website design by limwebdesign