Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Post-Election GOP Split Grows Louder; Chair Battle Seen; Guv Adviser McCleskey Under Increasing Fire, Plus: Two Couples Tied To Susana And Jay Head For The Exits 

Get ready for the split in the New Mexico Republican Party to become even louder and more public. Insiders report that party first vice-chair John Billingsley, chairman of the Lincoln County GOP,  is launching a candidacy for state chairman, campaigning against the tactics used by Governor Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey.

Also, Russell Allen of Dona Ana County--another anti-Jay R--is weighing a chairman run On the other side, our GOP watchers say engineer John Rockwell--friendly to the Martinez-McCleskey camp and owner of Sierra Peaks, a federal contractor--is also mulling a run.

The party's poor election night performance has prompted the reappraisal of the campaign in which Jay ran a super PAC--Reform NM Now--that spent millions in an effort to change the make-up of the New Mexico Legislature, but got hardly any bang for its buck.

Billingsley served as campaign manger for conservative southern Congressman Steve Pearce's 2008 US Senate run. In an op-ed piece he signals his split with McCleskey and says the party needs to run more of the show--not Jay:

Despite an investment of nearly $3 million by the governor and her related political action committees...let’s not fool ourselves: The Republican Party frankly got wiped out...In building a viable grass-roots organization, we not only begin to build the party from the bottom-up, but we also discover new leaders...If we truly want to change the face of the party to reflect the diverse makeup of our state, we must take this seriously rather than allowing this critical activity to be run by outside consultants....Our party must become the central resource for...messaging and campaign tactics...The party needs a comprehensive fundraising strategy--one that ensures...the party can aggressively engage in the re-election of our governor and all of our candidates. This will require the party to remain relevant...when it comes to delivering our message rather than relying on PACs and consultants. 

The state GOP will meet in December to pick a chairman to replace Monty Newman of Hobbs. If Billingsley gets his way it will be a chairman who runs the consultants--not the other way around.


Jay McCleskey
An email memo ripping into McCleskey (and his pollster wife Nicole) for failing to bring home the bacon for the Republicans is getting widespread circulation, but its authorship is unclear. Is it from a disgruntled R or a Dem trying to make trouble for the other side? The email is sent under the name of "John Fremont." That's an insider joke as insiders report that it is the pseudonym Jay once used to level a hit against a fellow R. Here are excerpts from the email:

..The resources that should have been used to build our state party were diverted directly in to the bank accounts of Jay and Nicole McCleskey. It’s time we faced the facts: Jay McCleskey has hijacked the Republican Party to personally enrich himself, leaving our county offices with nothing but crumbs. The result? A weakened party infrastructure without the means to get out-the-vote.

It’s time to stop Jay McCleskey.

...McCleskey took home more money than the annual operating budget of our state party.  And while they were raking in the cash, the Republican Party was losing big. We lost Congressional District-1. We lost CD-3. We lost the U.S. Senate. We lost the Presidency. We lost almost every single judicial appointment, including all 5 of Susana Martinez’s appointments in Bernalillo County. We lost the Las Cruces D.A.’s office, previously held by our governor. We even lost seats on the House (which we were supposed to finally take back!) 

Take a look at this article to learn more about McCleskey’s big pay-day this year.

...Jay has isolated our governor for his own personal schemes, guided her to campaign only where he had skin in the game, but rarely for candidates he wasn’t making money from...I believe in our governor and know that she can and will reform our state...By so closely associating ourselves to Jay and his wife’s polling, we’re putting the future of our party at risk... It’s time for us to reclaim our integrity and our moral high-ground.  If we don’t, we deserve what’s coming. Remember: This is our party, not Jay and Nicole McCleskey’s cash cow.

Jay McCleskey’s politics of destruction are hurting this party, undermining our principles, and standing in the way of our future. Here’s what we can do: Tell our governor to start leading based on principle, not Jay’s polling. Refuse to donate to Jay’s PACs. Donate directly to our state party instead.  Encourage candidates to refuse Jay’s “help." Tell our party to stop hiring Nicole McCleskey for polling.  It’s wrong anyway. Remember:  this is our party.  Let’s take it back.  

So what's next? A GOP Chairman who battles with Jay? A new circle of advisers emerging for Martinez in the second half of her term? Or more of the same?

The anonymous email claimed Jay and Nicole made a proft of $1 million in the 2012 cycle, but political consultants we queried said that is highly unlikely but they did estimate that $500,000 was not an unrealistic number.


The Darnells (Facebook)
We are getting word that the husband and wife team of Scott and Alexis Valdez Darnell are apparently headed to the exits by the end of the year. Our Alligators report Martinez communications director Scott Darnell is leaving his $80,000 a year job to pursue a Ph.D and that his wife Alexis Valdez Darnell, director of operations for Martinez who makes $75,000, will also depart--most likely before the end of the year.

Alexis Valdez is the daughter of Alex Valdez, the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center's chief executive officer. Scott Darnell is the son of Farmington City Councilor Dan Darnell.

It will be interesting to see who Martinez will tap for the communications post. Darnell was the nominal director, kept on a tight leash by McCleskey. Perhaps they "helicopter" in an appointee from Jay's out-of-state contacts.


And there's more. Our Alligators also report that Adam and Dana Feldman, the husband and wife team who moved here from Kentucky several years ago and moved quickly up GOP ranks on the wings of McCleskey, are headed back to the Bluegrass state.

Adam Feldman, a former executive director of the state GOP who served as Martinez's director of boards and commission, left that post to go to work with McCleskey's political firm. More recently, he operated Red Tag Strategies, a political consulting firm that was associated with Jay. His named popped up in what has been dubbed "emailgate" as one of the top Martinez administration officials getting controversial email.

Dana Feldman, under the direction of McCleskey, helped manage the campaign of Richard Berry when he ran for mayor of ABQ in 2009. When he was elected, she went to work as a City Hall spokesman and later became the deputy director of the city's cultural affairs department.

Back in Kentucky, GOP Senator Mitch McConnell is preparing a re-election bid. Maybe the Feldmans get in on that.

The departures of the Darnells and Feldmans follows the news of Martinez Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Cangiolosi departing for a plum (and controversial) job in a newly created $125,000 a year job at the University of New Mexico Hospital.

Cangiolosi and the Darnells are all seen as acolytes of McCleskey. Still left on the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse is McCleskey ally and Chief of Staff Keith Gardner who was extremely damaged when audio recordings of him were released in which he denigrated the state Senate leadership. We are getting inklings--just inklings--that he too may be headed out the door.

So who will replace all these aides? Allies of McCleskey? Or is Martinez--in the face of the aggressive criticism from key players in her own party--going to widen her circle to include those whose fealty is not necessarily to her powerful political adviser?

It's not easy for her. She looks at those approval ratings in the 60's and has to tell herself "what's wrong?" But seeds have been planted that could take her and those numbers down in a hurry. 


UNM poly sci professor Lona Atkeson makes a valiant but not quite convincing effort to convince the political community that New Mexico is still not a "blue state."

 She argues that the comfortable but not overwhelming margins of victory by Obama and US Senate candidate Martin Heinrich means we retain swing status. Something to consider, but the increasingly urban nature of New Mexico and the embrace of the Dems by the growing Hispanic community means the trend is blue.

Not that Republicans can't and won't get elected here, but calling us a swing state implies that there is a 50-50 chance that a Republican will win when a Republican and Democratic presidential candidate face off here. That used to be true. But it isn't any longer. That's why New Mexico is blue--maybe not deep blue--but kinda like a light turquoise blue.


Reader Stephanie DuBois  writes about the name change of former NM Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron to Rebecca Vigil-Gutierrez:

Rebecca is married to Tom Gutierrez, the brother of Joni Gutierrez. Joni is New Mexico's new Democratic National Committeewoman. 

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