Thursday, July 08, 2004

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: ROCKING THE LOVE BOAT

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican

It's pretty clear that New Mexico Democrats love John Kerry and John Edwards.

But it's also clear that New Mexico Democrats don't always love each other.

Case in point, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

The two ran against each other in the lieutenant governor primary in 1994 (Madrid won, but she and Gov. Bruce King lost in the general election.) And both are generally thought to harbor the ambition of one day being elected as the first female governor of the state.

In an interview Tuesday, the day Kerry announced that Edwards would be his running mate on the national Democratic ticket, Denish was talking about Edwards would help Kerry in the state.

When asked why Edwards came in a distant fourth in the state Democratic caucus last February, she said that was because his organization in the state wasn't strong. "You didn't see much of an (Edwards) organization here, just a few people out front," Denish said.

And who was in charge of Edwards' organization in the state? Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

But neither side on Wednesday wanted to rock the Democratic love boat - especially not with Kerry and Edwards coming to the state on Friday.

Caroline Buerkle, a spokeswoman for Madrid - and herself a part of Edwards' New Mexico caucus campaign - disagreed that Edwards' state organization was weak. But she said Madrid didn't want to comment on Denish's remarks. "We'll take the high road on this one," she said.

Meanwhile, Lauran Cowdrey, a spokeswoman for Denish, said the lieutenant governor didn't mean her remarks to interpreted as "a slam" against anyone.

"She just meant that she just couldn't identify a big organization for Edwards, whereas Kerry did have a big organization," Cowdrey said. "It was intended as a compliment to the Kerry campaign."

The return of medical marijuana: It seems like a different epoch back when Gary Johnson was governor and it looked like there was a decent chance that the Legislature might pass a law allowing New Mexicans suffering from serious medical conditions to legally use marijuana to treat their symptoms.

But it was just three years ago in 2001 when both the House and Senate passed different medical-marijuana bills. But because neither bill made it through both Houses, neither could be signed into law.

Even though Gov. Bill Richardson has said he'd consider signing a medical-marijuana bill, he also made it clear that it wasn't one of his priorities. Richardson appointed John Denko, an outspoken foe of medical marijuana, as Public Safety secretary. And when such a bill came to a vote in the House in 2003, many lawmakers who'd voted for it before changed their minds. The bill went up in smoke.

Though the political climate has changed, Reena Szcepanski, director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Project, said Wednesday her group intends to make another go for medical marijuana.

Though there hasn't been much movement in New Mexico on the issue in the past couple of years, Vermont recently became the ninth state to pass a medical-marijuana bill, Szcepanski noted. And polls around the country still show widespread support for the concept.

Support for medical marijuana hasn't completely evaporated in the Legislature. The winners of all three contested Democratic legislative primaries last month - Rep. Jim Trujillo, Rep. Peter Wirth and Senate candidate John Grubesic - all are on record for supporting a medical marijuana bill. (Wirth and Grubesic have opponents in the general election.)

Starr Time!: He was a solicitor general of the United States. He served two years on the U.S. Court of Appeals. He's the future dean of Pepperdine University School of Law. But come on, admit it. You only know him as the guy who examined the blue dress that led to the impeachment of a president.

Ken Starr, the special prosecutor who never learned what Bill Clinton's definition of "is" is, will be speaking in Albuquerque next week to a civic group called The One Hundred Club of New Mexico.

Tickets to the event (noon, July 16 at the Albuquerque Country Club) cost $20 per person. For reservations call 243-3525 by Monday.

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