Thursday, August 23, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: WHAT IF THE WHAT-IFS COME TRUE?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 23, 2007


Possible 2010 lieutenant governor candidate Javier Gonzales might have hit the nail on the head this week when asked about Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano’s announcement that he’s running for the “light guv” when he said, “In politics, three years is an eternity.”

Solano, of course, has his reasons for starting so early. While well-known in Santa Fe County (where he won big in last year’s primary and faced no opponent in the general election), the sheriff needs to build up name recognition in those other 32 counties.

And of course, while there haven’t been any formal news conferences like Solano’s, he’s not the only candidate working on the 2010 election. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish has said straight out she’s running for governor. Albuquerque Mayor Marty Ch├ívez has an exploratory committee for a possible gubernatorial run. One of the world’s shortest books would be about exploratory committees that didn’t turn into full-blown campaigns.

But Gonzales and others with whom I’ve spoken in the last couple days agree that there are a lot of “what-ifs” out there with the potential of shaking up the political ecology in this state.

First of all, before we get to the 2010 election, there’s something called the 2008 election. (Remember that?)

True, no state offices are up for election next year. All legislative seats are up, and theoretically, any legislator planning to run in 2010 could be defeated in 2008. But assuming next year is like most previous elections, there will be little legislative turnover and an embarrassing number of incumbent lawmakers will face no opposition in the primary or general election.

The real “what-if” is next year’s national election and what ripple effects it might have for New Mexico.
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Gov. Bill Richardson is running for president. Even if he doesn’t get the nomination, there’s speculation he could end up on the Democratic ticket. Or he could end up in the Cabinet if a Democrat gets elected. Or — and this is just pure speculation on the part of some political junkies — he could end up running against his old rival Pete Domenici for U.S. Senate.

(Richardson, for the record, has repeatedly said if he doesn’t get the nomination, he’ll go back to “the best job I’ve ever had,” i.e. governor of New Mexico. However he also told the New York Daily News last week, “I never preclude anything.”)

If Richardson, for whatever reason, doesn’t complete his term, Denish would become governor. That would mean she would have the advantage of the incumbency. No incumbent New Mexico governor has been ousted in a primary, at least in the near 40 years I’ve lived in this state.

Under the New Mexico Constitution, there’s no provision for choosing a replacement lieutenant governor. There have been attempts to change that in the past two legislative sessions, but both have stalled. It’s possible though such an amendment could pass in the next session and be approved by voters in November 2008.

That would mean if Denish became governor, she would choose her lieutenant governor, who then, assumedly, also would have the advantage of the incumbency in 2010.

But Richardson is not the only New Mexico Democrat who — at least according to the rumor mill — could be tapped for a federal office. There’s some chatter about U.S. Rep. Tom Udall becoming interior secretary — his dad Stewart Udall’s old job — if a Democrat is elected president.

If that were to happen, that would create the biggest political stampede among Northern New Mexico Democrats since Richardson gave up his congressional seat to become U.N. secretary. That actually could help Solano because some of the potential candidates looking at the lieutenant governor’s job might switch their sights to Congress.

Even if none of these particular “what-ifs” come true, three years indeed is a long, long time in politics.

Voter ID: An independent report released Tuesday found that 80 percent of New Mexico voters surveyed rated their voting experience with the new state paper-ballot system as “good” or “satisfactory.”

The poll was of 471 voters in the 1st Congressional District (which mainly consists of Albuquerque).

However, according to the executive summary, the same study indicates there is confusion among poll workers and voters about the voter identification requirements under the new election law that went into effect last year.

That law requires some identification be provided at polling places. The ID can be “verbal” — a statement of the voter’s name, address, birth year and last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.

During legislative debates on the law, Republicans argued that verbal identification amounts to no identification at all. As it turns out, a big number of voters weren’t even asked for verbal ID.

“Although many poll workers asked for voter identification, many did not,” the study said. “The voter survey confirmed this finding indicating that almost 65 percent of voters showed some form of voter identification, while 35 percent did not.”

The summary goes on to say, “Voters should be treated equally by poll workers and given the politics around this issue and the clear confusion by poll workers, more effort should be made training poll workers on voter identification election laws.”

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