Thursday, November 08, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE POLITICAL UNIVERSE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 8, 2007


Welcome to the center of the universe. The political universe, at least.
Some of Floyd's Buttons from the new Center of the Political Universe
That designation was bestowed upon this state last week by Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza.

“With an open Senate seat for the first time in 25 years and THREE open House seats, New Mexico is shaping up as the center of the political universe in 2008,” Cillizza wrote. “Who says big states have all the fun?”

To pick a nit here, in reality, this is the first open Senate seat here in 35 years. Twenty five years ago, Democrat Jeff Bingaman defeated incumbent Republican Harrison Schmitt. Republican Pete Domenici won an open seat in 1972.

In citing three open House seats, Cillizza is assuming Rep. Tom Udall will join the rest of the state’s current Congressional delegation — Republican Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce — in running for Domenici’s seat.

“While Udall is still being somewhat coy about his intentions, there is little doubt in the Washington political world that he will be a candidate and that he’ll enjoy establishment support both inside and outside the Beltway,” Cillizza wrote.

But, to paraphrase Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez, who also is running for U.S. Senate, we should let New Mexicans decide whether we’re the center of the political universe, not people in Washington, D.C.

While talking politics this week, University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson made the comment: “This is really the place to be in ’08 for politics. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Sounds like the center of the political universe to me.

The candidate glut: If Udall runs for Senate, I’m not going to run for his seat in Congress. Neither is state Rep. Peter Wirth, and I’ve got the press release to prove it.

But I assume everybody else is.

In reality, Democrats who have said they are considering the Congressional District 3 race — if Udall runs for Senate — are Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Luján, state auditor Hector Balderas, former County Commissioner Javier Gonzales, current County Commissioner Harry Montoya, former state Rep. Patsy Trujillo, Española Mayor Joe Maestas, Sheriff Greg Solano and lawyer Geno Zamora.

So far.

Your petitions are no good here: The sheer number of possible District 3 contenders has some state Democrats worried about a strange little law that slipped through the state Legislature last year.

House Bill 1156, which won unanimous approval of both legislative chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson, makes it tougher for candidates to get on the primary ballot.

Before the new law, candidates won a place on the ballot if they received at least 20 percent of the delegate votes at their party’s preprimary convention. Those who got less than that magic figure still could get on the ballot by submitting additional petitions with signatures of registered voters to the secretary of state.

The new law got rid of the petition option. Those who get less than 20 percent are out of luck.

Only trouble is, the large number of Democratic candidates in District 3 could increase the chances no candidate reaches the 20 percent mark at the preprimary convention. And, under the law that passed, there is no provision to get anyone on the ballot with less than 20 percent.

Here’s a little nightmare for Democrats: No candidate gets enough delegates to secure a place on the ballot. The GOP runs one candidate who automatically wins a Congressional seat in a heavily Democratic district.

“We’ve got a very unusual situation,” said Laura Sanchez, executive director of the state Democratic Party on Wednesday. “The party rules didn’t anticipate that scenario.”

Sanchez’s Republican counterpart, Adam Feldman, through a spokesman, agreed.

“There need to be provisions in the law for situations like this, which offer another path onto the ballot; candidates should be required to go through the party convention phase first, and the alternative path should make the prospective candidate show that he/she is a Republican capable of competing in a state primary and general election. Requirements should be difficult and truly test a potential candidate’s fortitude.”

A spokesman for the secretary of state said Wednesday that the office is working on a proposed fix. The Legislature would have to amend the law in its next session and tack on an emergency clause. Both parties hold their preprimary conventions March 15.

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