Thursday, February 10, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: MINOR PARTY BLUES

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 10, 2005


Just two years ago one of the Legislature’s most bitter controversies was a move by House Speaker Ben Lujan to make it harder for The Green Party to keep its "major party" status.

Greens themselves referred to it as the "Kill-the-Greens" bill. And Senate Republicans even threatened to use the "F" word (“filibuster”) if the measure made it to the floor of their chamber. It never did.

But now it appears that all the noise and bitterness in 2003 was unnecessary. The Legislature didn’t have to "kill the Greens." In effect, the voters did.

The Secretary of State’s office recently informed the party’s leaders that because their presidential candidate failed to get five percent of the vote last November under state law they were no longer "major."

As a matter of fact, National Green standard bearer David Cobb failed to get even one percent of the vote in New Mexico. He got fewer votes than independent candidate Ralph Nader and Michael Badnarik, candidate of the non-major Libertarian Party.

Having major-party status assures a political party of being on the ballot for the general and primary elections. Without that designation, Green candidates will have to gather petitions to get on the ballots.

But despite the secretary of state’s letter, the Greens aren’t giving up.

Carol Miller, state chairwoman of the Green Party, said Wednesday that the secretary of state is wrong. Even though Cobb missed the 5-percent mark, in Bernalillo County Steve Cabiedes, a Green candidate for county clerk, got better than 17 percent.

In 1996, Miller pointed out, then-Attorney General Tom Udall issued a legal opinion that said as long as any candidate gets more than five percent, the party can retain its major party status.

The Greens first got major-party status when Roberto Mondragon won 11 percent of the gubernatorial vote in 1994. But in 1996 and 1998, the Greens kept that status through a State Corporation Commission race in 1996 and a state auditor race in 1998.

However, in 2000 Santa Fe state District Judge Stephen Pfeffer ruled that either the presidential or gubernatorial candidate must receive five percent. Lesser candidates don’t count.

Since then it’s been up or down for the Greens in this state.

When their presidential candidate Ralph Nader failed to get that percentage in 2000, the party’s status was downgraded. They won it back again when Green gubernatorial candidate David Bacon got 6 percent in 2002.

Miller said the party has until the governor’s call for the next election to take action. "We need clarification from the Legislature or a court," she said.

Star Spangled Spin: Wednesday was Veterans Day at the Legislature — as well as Animal Protection Advocacy Day and Freedom Day for people with disabilities, but that’s beside the point — and the air was thick with patriotism.

Sen. Joe Carraro, R-Albuquerque, made a move to have 12 military-related bills heard Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee. He argued that expediting consideration of these bills and cutting some red tape would be a good way to honor our men and women in uniform.

Senate Democrats disagreed. Some even accused Carraro of grandstanding. His motion failed on a straight party-line vote.

There may well be good reasons for not hearing all those bills at once. For instance, some of the bills weren’t even assigned to the Finance Committee.

But within minutes of the votes the Dems issued a statement that revealed their position wasn’t one of pragmatism, but patriotism.

“Senate Shows Support of Military,” said the headline.

There Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez was quoted praising war veterans. “One of the many things they fought for was the continuity and process of this august body.”

I haven’t seen any polls of veterans on this, so I’m not sure how many would actually say they went into battle and risked their lives to defend the state Senate committee process.

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