Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Year Was 1974: Governor's Race Offered Plenty Of Drama For The Political Players And A Young Reporter 

While traveling abroad this week and next, we flash back to 1974 to bring you a memory sparked by the events of today...

Memories came rushing back when the shocking news of the arrest of Dr. Chris Garcia on charges of promoting prostitution blazed across the Net this summer. The 71 year old former UNM president, poly sci professor, author and political analyst of nearly 40 years has touched the lives of literally tens of thousands of New Mexicans, including ours. Allow me to share with you a political tale of long ago.

The year was 1974. I was covering my first political campaign, writing of the Governor contest between Democrat Jerry Apodaca and Republican Joe Skeen. And it was also the year I covered the first "Zia Poll" authored by none other than UNM political science professors Chris Garcia and Paul Hain.

The '74 Governor's race turned out to be one of the tightest in state history. Jerry Apodca beat Joe Skeen. by polling164,172 (49.9 percent) to Skeen's 160,430 (48.8 percent). The trouble for the Zia Poll was not its prediction that Apodaca would score a victory, but that the poll had Jerry ahead by 16 points in the final survey. That's a far cry from the mere one percent squeaker Apodaca came away with.

The big gap was enough for me to mention it in the Lobo Election Night story, saying: "One election eve poll had predicted a 16 point win for Apodaca..." For whatever reason--perhaps in an effort to spare the new Zia Poll any embarrassment--I did not mention it by name. I wrapped the story up in the wee morning hours (more on that later), got some sleep and awoke a few hours later to retrieve a fresh paper. I knew right away there was trouble around the bend as I took in the headline that blared:

"Apodaca wins Close Gov. Race; Zia Poll Was Off."

Hey, I didn't even mention the Zia Poll in the body of the story. How did that get in there? Well, I don't recall asking him later, but am almost certain Lob editor Mike Minturn took the opportunity to settle whatever score he had with Chris. I do recall that Minturn got an earful about it from Garcia who was outraged that his errant poll was in the main headline for the newspaper that all of his friends, colleagues and family read.

I did not see Garcia much over the years, but when I did talk to him over the phone or via email, we never did speak of that Election Night or the Lobo headline. He probably knew from the copy I wrote that I had nothing to do with sticking the needle in him. He went on to big things later that decade, serving as a TV political analyst and conducting numerous "Zia Polls" that always made news.

We should add that those later polls were more accurate than the controversial one that started the political ball rolling for F. Chris Garcia and the one that gave me one of my first and most lasting memories of La Politica.

Tomorrow: An Election Night To Remember.

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