Monday, November 10, 2008

Flattened R's Emerge From Bomb Shelters; Who Will Lead? We Go In-Depth, Plus: Senate Positioning, And: What Val Means To Di 

New Mexico Republicans have emerged from their bomb shelters, assessing the devastating damage inflicted on them by the Dems and casting about for someone to lead them to, if not the promised land, at least a place where they can lick their wounds in peace. It will take many months, if not years, for the R's to recover from the once unimaginable Dem sweep of the state's congressional delegation, the loss of six seats in the Legislature and the NM landslide for Obama. Someone must try to build something from almost nothing. But who?

Like cockroaches after nuclear warfare, the factions that have bedeviled the R's survive. Farmington Dr. Allen McCulloch, crushed in a landslide in 2006 when he was the R nominee against Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman, is being bandied about as a possible replacement for Allen Weh who presided over what will be recorded as one of the worst setbacks in party history. But the faction that opposes Weh is beside itself that the same players who were responsible for the party's demise will manage to stay in power. They are casting about desperately for their own candidate. It isn't easy. Cleaning up the mess is akin to Hercules cleansing the stables. In this case, there is no guarantee that hard work will pay off.

The trouncing was so overwhelming that many R's describe themselves as disgusted or even apathetic. They need more time to recover. Outgoing GOP Senator Pete Domenici was the titular head of the R's for decades, but his party building efforts were centered on ABQ Rep. Heather Wilson. Once she was rejected, there was nothing to fall back on. The one other notable Domenici recruit was David Iglesias who became US attorney. We all know what happened there.


Weh, whose CSI Aviation services receives millions in federal contracts, may have seen what was happening but did nothing to get in the way. He was hand-picked by Wilson when Ramsay Gorham was ousted as chair in 2004 when she crossed swords with Bush White House operatives and Domenici chief of staff Steve Bell, a major player in GOP politics. When he sought re-election two years ago, Weh was challenged over the party's obsession with the now failed Wilson. More recently, supporters of Bernalillo County GOP district attorney candidate Lisa Torraco complain that the GOP planned on helping her in her hotly contested race with Dem Kari Brandenburg, but instead switched late money to ABQ GOP US House candidate Darren White who replaced Wilson as the party's focus of attention. White was crushed in an 10 point landslide that gave the Dems the ABQ congressional district for the first time in 40 years.


After such an "ass whopping" as ABQ GOP State Rep. Larry Larranaga described the GOP defeat, it could be expected that the new chairman would conduct a thorough house cleaning. But the fear of those already opposing McCulloch, or a similar contender, is that the party will stick with the same consultants, contractors and pollsters who were on board during the 2008 shipwreck as well as the one in 2006.

The only Republicans of any stature left, besides State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, is GOP National Committeeman Pat Rogers and Committeewoman Rosie Tripp, but the controversial Rogers has been a key player in the current party structure. Recently, he was damaged again when he and ABQ GOP State Rep. Justine Fox-Young went before TV news cameras and said they would produce definitive evidence of fraudulent votes. They did not produce the evidence and were scorched in the press. The episode may have contributed to Fox-Young's upset defeat Election Night.


Sen. Sego (circa 1971)
Some insiders now speculate that perhaps the new blood can come from the old blood. One name mentioned as a possible party healer and unifier during these dark days is former ABQ GOP State Senator and longtime ABQ businessman Bill Sego. Now in his 70's, Sego has a reputation as a moderate, a bridge builder and a savvy power player. It's true that, like Weh, Sego's building leasing business receives federal contracts, but the entire GOP congressional delegation is gone and with it potential conflicts of interest. Also, Sego's company does not receive anywhere near the monies that Weh's CSI Aviation does.

Sego, who once sought the GOP Guv nomination, dates back to the 1960's when there were so few Republican legislators they could, as the late Skeen said, "meet in a phone booth." The party does not quite yet face those dire circumstances, but it's headed that way. If Sego or someone with the credentials to bridge the factions, clean the house and attract new faces does not arrive soon, the R's could find that, like phone booths, even fewer of them will be left standing.


The whips got whipped. First, state House minority whip Dan Foley was shown the door in the June primary by voters in his Roswell area district. Now the Dona Ana County Clerk reports it's official. State Senate minority whip Lee Rawson is definitely gone. There was still a small possibility that Lee would survive as they tallied provisional ballots, but it was not to be. Rawson will be replaced by Steve Fischmann, a retiree from the finance end of Levi-Strauss. Enviros campaigned hard for him and the new senator has been active in the community.

Jockeying is now underway to replace the two legislative leaders, although with the Roundhouse even more Dem dominated, neither position carries with it much power outside the party.


Sen. Sanchez
A review of campaign reports shows Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez gave Senator-elect Fischmann $3,000 for his campaign against Rawson. The donations were made from Sanchez's "Majority Leadership Fund." That's a far cry from what Dem Senate president pro tem Tim Jennings did. Dem Tim actually made a robocall for Republican Rawson, a move that will likely cost him his leadership post and a story we blogged about Thursday.

Will Fischmann now support Sanchez's re-election to the most powerful post in the Senate? The Democratic leader from Belen is working hard to keep his caucus in line in the wake of the Tuesday landslide. If it's a two way race--and we don't know how many contenders there will be---it would take 14 of the 27 Dems to win. Liberals feel empowered and Sanchez is viewed more as a moderate. Still, insiders at the Capitol point out that Sanchez has stood up for the Senate as an institution, finally asserting the chamber's historical independence against a powerful and politically skillful governor. If liberals like Fischmann and Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino support him, he should be kept in the saddle. Also, we're told not to underestimate the power the trial lawyers have with Dems in this state. Sanchez is one of them.


What about a coalition of R's and D's to change the leadership of the Senate? It has happened before, but only rarely. The R's are down to 15 in the 42 member Senate. They would need seven Dems to come with them, an unlikely prospect, but never say never in this crazy-quilt year.


And how about "Dr. No"? That would be conservative State Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Libs can't handle the guy, but wall-leaners checking in here ask if this is really the time to coup a lawmaker who has credibility with both sides of the aisle? The job of the next legislative session is cutting the budget by at least $300 million in the midst of a nasty recession. They say if the Dems start to try taxing and spending, it will be the overreach the R's are looking for. Smith of Deming serves as a moderating influence. We would add that southern conservatism is a long-standing tradition in New Mexican politics. It is not going away no matter what moves are made on Dr. No. Not that there won't be some made.


Actor Val Kilmer, serious or not, is starting to mess with the heads of those who have their eyes on the 2010 Guv race. The wealthy actor, who lives some of the time at his Pecos River Ranch near Santa Fe, was at it again when he told the New York Post he is really considering a run for the Guv's chair. Somewhat bizarrely, he claimed encouragement has come from his political friend Big Bill.

All this is fun for Val, but what if he were to go after the Guv's chair with the intensity he pursues his acting? Assuming he seeks the Dem nomination, it could complicate the plans of Lt. Guv Diane Denish. Kilmer, a native of Los Angeles, could vie with Denish for Anglo votes in a primary, leaving the door open for a strong Hispanic contender. For example, Michael Sanchez, who has his hands full keeping his day job as state Senate majority leader, has not been taken too seriously when he talks aloud about possibly running for Guv, but if Kilmer got in, who knows? Maybe Patsy Madrid might find some temptation on the Guv campaign trail?

Denish may be the frontrunner to succeed Big Bill, but Kilmer's occasional cameos in this embryonic production for Guv is not the plot she had in mind. Whether Kilmer, 48, is serious, just play acting or torturing Di at the behest of a mischievous Big Bill, the Dem landslide this month might encourage other Dems to get on the gubernatorial stage. In New Mexico, it seems, there is never a dull moment, even after one of the most exciting election years in its long and storied history.

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