As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Ramsay Gorham's decision Wednesday to step down as state Republican chairwoman -- and to quit her contested re-election campaign for the state Senate -- caps off more than a year of infighting in the state GOP. The party has been so divided that New Mexico Republicans are behaving like a bunch of Democrats, or so the joke goes.
While some GOP leaders such as U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici have called for Republicans to view Gorham's departure as a time for reunification, some think the divisions are going to haunt the party for a long time. "The war isn't over," state House Republican Leader Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque said Wednesday.
"We've still got two factions," said Hobbs, a Gorham supporter, "and they're still going to do their things. Ramsay was trying to bring the factions together, but we've still got a problem. And it's not in best interest of the party."
It's hard to pinpoint the exact date of origin for the current turmoil. But there were serious rumblings as early as spring of 2001, when Gorham and her husband, Frank, a former Bernalillo County Republican chairman, backed Rep. Ron Godbey of Cedar Crest against John Dendahl for the state chairmanship.
The Gorhams and Godbey were upset with Dendahl and then-Gov. Gary Johnson over their support for liberalizing laws against marijuana. Though Domenici didn't take sides in the chairmanship battle that year, he, along with U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Joe Skeen, publicly denounced Dendahl for saying Republicans shouldn't use Democrats' support for drug-reform bills against them.
Dendahl won another two years as chairman. But Ramsay Gorham began positioning herself as a challenger. During the next legislative session, she and her husband started an antidrug group called Protect New Mexico to lobby against Johnson's drug-reform bills. By the end of 2002, she announced her candidacy against Dendahl.
Dendahl in 2002 had come under fire from some Republicans for allegedly favoring gubernatorial candidate John Sanchez over other contenders -- including then-Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley -- in the Republican primary. Sanchez won the nomination but lost to Bill Richardson in the general election.
The Dendahl-Gorham battle was long and bitter. Gorham's effort was boosted when Domenici endorsed her. The state Republican Central Committee in May voted 197-156 to elect Gorham.
But the sniping between the two sides continued. Gorham supporter Rep. Earlene Roberts of Lovington told a reporter that GOP National Committeeman Mickey Barnett would be next to get the ax. Dendahl supporter and Barnett protégé Joe Thompson had earlier that year defeated Roberts, who was seeking re-election as House Republican whip.
Last October, Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, wrote a scathing analysis of what he said were Gorham's shortcomings in fighting a state constitutional amendment concerning school funding. The amendment narrowly passed.
(Adair, in a Wednesday interview, bristled at the notion he is a "critic" of Gorham. He has merely analyzed certain things that have happened under the chairwoman, he insisted. The kicker: "I'm a Gorham supporter," Adair said.)
But perhaps the most obvious signs of discord in the GOP was the distance between Gorham's state party organization and the Bush-Cheney campaign. The state Bush organization -- which includes several Gorham opponents -- has visibly distanced itself from the state party. Gorham was snubbed in November when the Bush campaign didn't invite her to a presentation in Albuquerque by national Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot.
Although at one point Gorham announced a "truce" between the state party and the Bush campaign, it soon became obvious that peace wasn't really at hand.
The latest Gorham controversy was over her running for re-election to the Senate (against former Dendahl staffer John Ryan) while keeping her position as chairwoman. Some called that a violation of party rules. The state Central Committee was to discuss the issue in Roswell next week, but Gorham on Wednesday made it moot.
As Hobbs pointed out, there's still plenty of GOP strife. There are plenty of contested Republican legislative primaries, one of which pits incumbent Rep. Larry Larranaga of Albuquerque against former Rep. Rob Burpo -- a Gorham ally. Republican National Committee members Barnett and Rosie Tripp of Socorro are expected to face challengers from the so-called Gorham faction.
And sometime in the next 30 days, the divided party has to chose a new state chairman or chairwoman.
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