As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
There’s a tradition in New Mexico of maverick Republicans. Think of Gov. Gary Johnson driving about half his party crazy with his advocacy of drug-law reform. Think of Gov. “Lonesome Dave” Cargo driving his party crazy with just about everything he said and did.
The latest to join the state’s maverick Republican ranks is Al Lopez, who is running against incumbent Democrat Sen. Phil Griego for the District 39 Senate seat. Lopez is calling for Northern New Mexican Republican candidates to hold press conferences “outlining that our candidacies are not promoting the re-election of President Bush.”
Lopez said this week that Bush has a “terrible credibility gap” with voters in his district — which includes parts of Santa Fe, San Miguel, Mora, Los Alamos and Taos counties. “When I go out and talk to voters, the two main things they want to talk about are George Bush and Bill Richardson,” he said.
“I am doing very well in establishing good relations with Hispanic Democrats, but the cross I have to bear in carrying the Republican banner is justifying being a Republican and answering questions regarding the Iraq war,” Lopez said.
Lopez pointed out that District 39 is not only heavily Democratic (65 percent), it voted significantly in favor of Al Gore in 2000.
But Lopez hasn’t completely jumped ship. He hasn’t endorsed John Kerry. At least not yet, he said.
“When (voters) ask me about Bush,” Lopez said, “I just tell them to think, listen, evaluate and decide for yourself. I’d rather be talking about issues related to District 39 — why Mora and San Miguel are ranked so low (in per capita income), how we can help Hispanic kids in trouble.”
Last week the local Republican Party welcomed Santa Fe City Councilor David Pfeffer, a Democrat who endorsed Bush. However, up in Los Alamos, the GOP has lost a city councilor.
Mike Wismer, according to the online Majure Report, has announced he switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent last month.
Wismer, a Desert Storm veteran, said Thursday that the Iraq War was the main reason for his switch.
“I am troubled by the political passion of those on the extreme right who seem to claim divine wisdom on political as well as spiritual matters,” he said in the Majure Report. “On the other side of the spectrum, I am put off by patronizing liberals who claim to know what is best for society but devote little thought as to who will pay the bills.”
They’re not quite as much fun as John Dendahl and Jamie Koch were a couple of years ago when Dendahl was state GOP chairman and Koch was his Democratic counterpart. But the new guys in those jobs — Republican Allen Weh and Democrat John Wertheim — are showing some promise in terms of political entertainment.
Last week, Weh was milking the national story about an anti-Bush group called America Coming Together hiring some felons to do door-to-door canvassing in other states.
“ACT has admitted to sending felons convicted of sex crimes and assault to conduct voter registration efforts in as many as 17 states,” Weh wrote to Wertheim, a missive that was provided to the press, of course.
“Despite initial willingness to clarify their hiring process they now refuse to say whether they sent a murderer and a rapist door to door.”
Pointing out that New Mexico was “the last state in the country to pass a real Megan’s Law,” which he said has made the state “a haven for violent sexual predators,” Weh said to Wertheim: “I hope you will make clear that the Democratic Party of this state, under your direction, is not using similar tactics to register voters.”
This week, Wertheim shot back a letter to Weh — also sent to the press, of course — arguing that ACT isn’t part of the Democratic Party.
Wertheim also twisted the knife.
“Your objections to the employment of felons are belied by the candidacy of convicted felon John Ryan in New Mexico’s tenth Senate District,” he said.
“As you recall, Mr. Ryan pleaded guilty and was convicted for his participation in a burglary and extortion scheme in 1980.”
When Johnson was governor, he pardoned Ryan.
Finally Wertheim told Weh: “I know yours is a stressful job, and that sometimes we all need to get away for a little while and clear our heads. Movies can be helpful in this regard.
“For your enjoyment, I have enclosed two tickets for you and a friend to Fahrenheit 911. Enjoy.”
GOP Executive Director Greg Graves said Wednesday that Weh hasn’t received Wertheim’s letter — or the tickets.
“We weren’t asking (Wertheim) to be cute,” Graves said. “This is a very serious thing.”
He said Weh has no interest in seeing Michael Moore’s movie.
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