Monday, October 08, 2012

Columbus Day Campaign Action: Keller Vs. Robinson In Watched State Senate Contest; Jennings Vs. Pirtle Makes More News, And: It's Hanisee Vs. Zamora For Spot On Court Of Appeals 

To the campaign trail on this Columbus Day 2012 and we find the action in two State Senate contests...

The campaign is well underway in ABQ's SE Heights where Dem State Senator Tim Keller--seeking a second four year term--faces Republican Shannon Robinson--who was the Democratic Senator for the district until being defeated by Keller in the June 2008 primary. Robinson reports having only about $5,000 in his campaign kitty at the end of September so if Keller is going to get hit hard it will have to be by outside PACS. Keller had over $117,000 in the bank at the end of September. (Of course, it was third party "progressive" PACS attacking Robinson that helped make possible Keller's win over Robinson).

In the meantime, an old story that hurt Shannon four years ago has resurfaced--the $1 million in capital outlay he secured to build a rugby field in Santa Fe--over 60 miles from his SE Heights district. That remains controversial because the SE Heights district is so worn down that a large section of it is still known as "The War Zone" even though area residents prefer "International Zone."

Keller is heavily favored. Sentiment at the start of this race is that Rs wanted to bring damage Keller's statewide political prospects, but they have yet to hit him hard, using some robocalls but there's been no sightings yet of the Reform NM Now PAC in the district.


It was none other than former NM GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Jr. who had Robinson register as a Republican, prompting speculation that the R's wanted to tarnish the badge of Keller who is considered a rising star in the state Dem Party. And that leads us to this news....

It seems former GOP chair Yates is going all in for Dem State Senator Tim Jennings in Roswell--even though the Governor's chief political adviser is running the Reform NM Now PAC that is targeting Jennings.

A check of state finance reports shows that on August 13 Yates' Jalapeno Corporation gave $2,000 to Jennings. Yates joins Republican Roswell oilman Mark Murphy in supporting Jennings as well as another member of the Yates oil family who donated to Jennings.

The Republican support of Jennings shows how the Guv's high-profile intervention in this legislative contest is going to cause a fissure in her party. But as she showed when she took sides in the June GOP state Senate contest in Clovis, she doesn't much care.

Along those lines, Sam Spencer, a prominent Lea County Republican banker who was appointed to the state Board of Finance by Governor Martinez, is supporting Jennings. He lent his name to a recent fund-raiser for the Senator. That's another sign that Martinez is going to have some bridges to repair if she comes up empty-handed in her effort to take Jennings out.

(We blogged Friday that Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner said in a secretly recorded conversation that he "hated" Roswell. Actually, it was Brian Powell--the other party to the conversation--who used the word "hate." Gardner said in response, "I’m with ya, I’m 100 percent with you.")


Now the backlash. Guv political adviser Jay McCleskey is stirring hornets nests all over the state with his Reform NM Now PAC targeting a bevy of legislative candidates, including a number of women hopefuls. Now they are hitting back.  Political consultant Traci Cadigan says about a dozen women candidates will hold a press conference at 2:00 pm today in front of the main entrance to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Building (City Hall) to denounce "the unfair, untrue attacks." From the release:

Voters’ mailboxes have been flooded with negative attacks against the women. The attacks are at best misleading, and at worst, outright lies. For instance, Reform New Mexico accused State House District 15 candidate Emily Kane of supporting the law giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants, while in fact, she has stated publicly that she is squarely against the law.  Similarly, State House District 43 candidate Stephanie Garcia Richard was accused of supporting the drivers’ license law, when in fact, she is against it.  “Reform New Mexico has no regard for the truth.  It is sad that their negative mailers are in such bad need of fact checking,” said Emily Kane. In another mailed attack, Reform NM accused District 23 State House candidate Marci Blaze of attacking her Republican opponent’s family and his personal financial and bankruptcy records.  In fact, neither Marci Blaze nor her campaign has said anything about her opponent’s family or his financial troubles.  Reform NM PAC simply made it up....

“There are only 7 women in the Senate.  We have good women candidates.  This PAC has no rules or ethics or respect for the truth.  This well-funded group is a win at all costs PAC and they have a lot of money, but if they think that the women candidates won’t fight back – they are very wrong about that.” said State Senator Lisa Curtis, who is running for election in Senate District 21.

McCleskey and the Governor are determined to try to take over the Legislature and are stirring a hornet's nest in the process. The problem is Jay McCleskey has become a public figure and the foil for the Dems.


There hasn't been a Republican elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court since the 80's, but once in a while a Republican sneaks through and gets elected to the ten member NM Court of Appeals.

This year Republican J. Miles Hanisee hopes he's one who sneaks through. But it will be tough. He faces ABQ District Court Judge Monica Zamora. Hanisee was appointed by Governor Martinez to fill a vacancy on the court last year. The job pays about $118,000 a year.

One interesting aspect of this race is the money trail and how close the competitors are. Take a look:

Hanisee opted for public financing, a system intended to prevent political influence on candidates for judgeships. Hanisee has received $179,629...Zamora is accepting money from private contributors for her campaign. She had $157,215, but reported all but about $25,000 had been spent....Zamora said public financing of judicial candidates has drawbacks that make it imperfect. New Mexico is a poor state, and certain voters are uncomfortable with their tax dollars going toward candidates they do not support or believe in, she said. She said she was scrupulous about not reading or checking her list of political donors. That way there is no possibility of her knowing who contributed to her election campaign, and no possibility that she would be influenced by them. Before the primary, she received contributions from more than 110 attorneys and law firms, by far her largest bloc of donors.

While Judge Zamora wrestles with the issue of public financing, Republican Judge Hanisee has some controversy in his own party. Here it is:

As a defense lawyer, Hanisee played a role in one of New Mexico's notorious public corruption cases.He helped represent former state senator Manny Aragon, a Democrat, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to three felonies in a scheme to defraud the state of nearly $4.4 million. Aragon is serving a 5 1/2-year sentence in federal prison. "I think it was a fair deal," Hanisee said in summing up the plea bargain.

That's interesting because once again Aragon has become a campaign issue--or at least the political action committee being run by the Guv's political adviser is trying to make him one. It has sent mail out against Dem State Senator Tim Jennings for writing a letter that asked for leniency for Aragon. Now you have a Republican seeking higher office who handled his legal case. Manny may still be serving his prison sentence, but he still casts a shadow in La Politica.

In 2010, Judge Richard Robles squeaked by Republican Ned Fuller--50.8% to 49.2%--to take the seat Zamora and Hanisee are now vying for. '10 was a huge Republican year. '12 promises to be different. Hanisee will need some of those Democratic votes Aragon was so adept at corralling.

(Zamora Sunday won the endorsement of the the Las Cruces Sun-News).


We blogged Thursday about how the strength of New Mexico trial lawyers could get a boost if attorney and State Rep. Kenny Martinez becomes the new Speaker of the NM House in January. And that got the Alligators wondering about who will chair the House Judiciary Committee--a high-profile slot where big news can be made from. ABQ State Rep. Al Park is current chair and leaving at the end of the year. The best bets to replace him? ABQ Dem State Rep. Gail Chasey and ABQ Dem Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas. Both are well-liked in the corridors of the Roundhouse.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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