Monday, December 08, 2008

Move To Delay GOP Chair Election Puts Pearce and Weh On Showdown Path, Plus: Heinrich Staffs Up, And: NM First Lady Alice King Called By Death At 78 

Pearce & Friends
Steve Pearce says he's is ready to pick up the pieces of the shattered vase that is the NM Republican Party, but this Saturday he faces what one insider is calling "a tough and bloody fight" that will greatly influence whether he takes command. Current GOP Chair Allen Weh has called a special meeting for Saturday at the ABQ Menaul School asking that party rules be changed so the election of chairman and other party officers can be delayed by over a month. In a message to GOP Central Committee members Weh says the rule calling for a January chair election was "well-intentioned, but a not very well thought out change." However, Pearce backers see it as a way to obstruct the outgoing southern congressman's bid to take over the beleaguered GOP.

Top R's report Pearce is accelerating his campaign for chair this week. No other big name candidates have emerged and the Pearce backers are accusing Weh of wanting to delay the chair election so those against Pearce can find a formidable opponent. Dr. Allen McCulloch of Farmington has indicated he may run and is supported by the anti-Pearce faction, but McCulloch apparently wants to run only if Pearce does not. An assortment of other candidates have dropped their names as possible chairs, but none has caught fire, making Pearce the frontrunner and the beneficiary of a January election.

The party normally elects its officers in the spring, but two years ago that was changed and the January election scheduled. Weh, who supported the move at the time, now says: "We require candidates to campaign for election during the holidays. Neither is that welcome, nor was it intended, when we passed the rule change."

Our sources say Pearce is not buying the logic and is working hard behind the scenes to get enough Central Committee votes at the ABQ meeting to keep the January election as scheduled.

Pearce, 61, was routed in November by Dem Tom Udall for the open NM US Senate seat, but in the June Republican primary he narrowly defeated ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, who was instrumental in placing Weh in the chairmanship. The party has become splintered in recent years and Pearce backers want him to come in and clean the nest of those who have presided over the last two elections which have ended in disaster.


If the election goes forward as scheduled January 10, Pearce will be heavily favored. If it is delayed, that could give time for a well-known name to be drafted to run against him. Pearce supporters say if he is chosen for a two year term the Hobbs lawmaker will bring in an out of state executive director, similar to what GOP Chairman John Dendahl did in the mid-90's when the R's last had a long successful run.

But will Pearce use the chairmanship as a stepping stone to run for his congressional seat, soon to be occupied by Dem Harry Teague, or even a bid for Governor? That would mean he would have to vacate the chairmanship after only a year. His supporters argue the party is down and out and if a strong chair like Pearce isn't elected, the R's, no matter who their candidates are, will have no shot in 2010 at the southern US House seat or the Guv's chair.

Pearce is from the right-wing of the party and will have to reach out to moderates loyal to outgoing Senator Domenici and Congresswoman Wilson, but he will have to do it without alienating his supporters who want new staff and consultants to take charge. The Alligators reliably report that Pearce met with Wilson this weekend to discuss party affairs. Pearce will sweeten the pot, insiders say, by announcing a finance committee laced with with heavy hitters from the oil industry who he says will help him rebuild.

The NM GOP may resemble a picked over carcass to triumphant Dems, but it still has a faint heartbeat. If Pearce can win the rules battle Saturday, he may have a clear field for the chairmanship and a chance to get the party's pulse beating loud enough for D's to take notice.

A couple of ABQ political veterans will join the staff of Congressman-elect Martin Heinrich. John Blair will be Heinrich's legislative and communications director and Heather Brewer comes aboard to direct Heinrich's ABQ congressional office. Blair, an attorney who graduated from UNM Law School, is a former legislative aide to Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman and helped run Jeff's last re-election campaign. He also served for a time as chief of staff to State Auditor Hector Balderas. Blair attempted to become a politician himself this year but he lost the Dem nomination for an ABQ state Senate seat to Tim Eichenberg. Tim went on to beat Republican Diane Snyder.

Brewer leaves her position as NM director of NARAL--the pro-choice group. She has worked as press secretary for Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California. She also served as spokeswoman for Patsy Madrid's 2006 ABQ congressional run and is a Northwestern School of Journalism grad.

It is a bit unusual, but not unheard of for Blair to have the title of both legislative and communications director, but Heinrich is expected to also hire a press secretary who will be based in ABQ. Brewer will be stepping into an office that has a national reputation for delivering constituent service. That tradition was started by Republican Manuel Lujan when he took the seat in '68 and carried forward by GOP Reps Steve Schiff and Heather Wilson.

Steve Haro, 31, who served as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Western Regional Political Director and previously handled press duties for U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, is Heinrich's chief of staff.

Heinrich is the first Democrat to hold the ABQ House seat since its inception in '68. He scored a nearly 11 point win over Republican Darren White. That big margin seems to be keeping speculation at bay for now on who the R's will field in 2010 to try to take back the seat. It will also tamp down any possible talk of Dem primary challengers.

Southern NM Congressman-elect Harry Teague has announced that veteran political operative Adrian Saenz who ran Obama's NM office will serve as his chief of staff. What about a chief for northern Congressman-elect Ben Ray Lujan? Still no word on that.


No on-air talent has been sacrificed--at last not yet--in a round of layoffs at KOB-TV. My media mavens report the 10 layoffs were brought about by this nasty recession that has car dealers---key TV advertisers--dropping their ad buys faster than Obama can say "stimulus package." The NBC affiliate did, however, cancel its 4 p.m. news broadcast. The layoffs clipped a TV news producer and a news cameraman. Future layoffs at KOB and perhaps the other major TV stations here will be determined by the course of the economy.


Key transition aides for soon to be Governor Diane Denish will be paid nicely in these difficult economic times. Transition Director Kathy Keith and Transition Communications Director Chris Cervini come aboard at salaries of $93,000. If they become permanent employees when Denish becomes governor the staff chief salray could go higher. The salaries are not over the top, but Di could gain some political points and position herself as sacrificer-in-chief if she downsizes the overstaffed Governor's office. Folks are falling over themselves there after Bill's big build-up. If she doesn't wield the budget axe, some inquiring Republican will probably raise the issue.


Knowing Big Bill as they do, the Alligators are wondering just how much control he is going to try to have over La Politica even as he heads to D.C. to become commerce secretary. Cast in that light the Keith appointment is interesting in that she served as Bill's legislative director in Congress and also as his state economic development chief. In a similar vein, President-elect Obama's hiring of former Clinton associates has also raised questions. In defense of the Keith pick, one insider said that Denish needs a close link to team Richardson--at least for a while. "I think the point is that Denish needs someone close to his world to help interpret what Richardson has done and knows the Richardson people." He analyzed.

You say you would like a job in the new Guv administration? Well, here's an email address---transition2008@dianedenish.com. Good luck.

And the AP's Barry Massey hits with a piece on when Big Bill will head east. Our experts here have said they think it could very well be by the end of January, much sooner than the mid to late February timeline the Guv has mentioned. The AP piece agrees.

Meanwhile, our e-mail on the subject of Bill and Di has been running like this:

"I have always been a supporter of Bill and generally think he's done a fine job, but he needs to get out of Dodge and get on the job in D.C. It's almost like a "worst case" scenario, with BR's dead hand on the wheel steering us through a potential fiscal train wreck and leaving the wreckage for the rest of us, but most directly in Denish's lap. It's unfair at best and thoroughly selfish and self-centered at worst..."

"Dead hand on the steering wheel?" The e-mailers are rising to the drama, don't you think?


The death of Alice King seems much too soon. Yes, she was 78, but she was never ill in public and retained a vitality and powerful presence about her. We had occasional glimpses of her since she and Bruce King finished their third gubernatorial term in 1995. We say "their" term because Alice was a powerful player in all of Bruce's political activities. She was instrumental in keeping him on track and was even responsible for the creation of a cabinet department--Children, Youth and Families, which will be her major legacy. Alice King died Sunday at ABQ Presbyterian Hospital from a massive stroke she suffered earlier at home.

She was 17 and living on her parents' dairy farm in Moriarty when she married Bruce of Stanley. The life and family they created together is the stuff of NM political legend. One of their sons, Attorney General Gary, carries on the familly political legacy. Upon the death of his mother, he said:

"On behalf of the entire family, I want to thank the many people who have been so supportive and for all their prayers. We will let everyone know about public funeral arrangements as soon as possible. No one could have cared more for all New Mexico children and all of our citizens. We will all miss her dearly."

Governor Richardson ordered the lowering of all state flags in honor of her memory. He issued the state's formal condolences from the storied Roundhouse in Santa Fe that Alice King knew so well.

“This is a sad day for all New Mexicans because we lost a true friend in Alice King. Alice's impact on the state she loved will always be felt, particularly for the vulnerable children who are better off as a result of her compassion and tireless advocacy. Barbara and I will miss Alice dearly, and our prayers are with the King family."

What a year of passages it has been. Senator Domenici leaving, Big Bill headed to Washington, three new NM US House members and now the passing of Alice King. The wheel of La Politica must turn but New Mexicans today wish it turned slower. They will miss their good and reliable friend Alice King.

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