Thursday, March 06, 2008

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: FEARS OF LUJAN "FIX" OVERBLOWN

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 6, 2008


Even before Ben Ray Luján officially announced he was running for Tom Udall’s congressional seat, some Democrats were expressing the fear that Luján’s dad, state House Speaker Ben Luján, had the nomination wired for him.

But, following the local Democratic ward meetings and Santa Fe County Democratic Convention (both of which took place at Santa Fe Community College last Saturday), it’s apparent the younger Luján is indeed a strong candidate, but fears that he and his father would shut out everyone else were overblown.

Before the Legislature passed and the governor signed a “fix” to a controversial change in election law, some even feared the Lujáns could have “the fix” in by the time the March 15 pre-primary convention took place.

The theory went along these lines: The state Central Committee — which makes up 152 out of the 712 delegates in the 3rd Congressional District at the pre-primary convention — largely is made up of local elected officials and other assorted politicos.

As Sheriff Greg Solano wrote in his campaign blog last year, “All of these people go to the legislature at some point and time to get things passed or obtain capital funds for their local jurisdictions.” And thus, the thinking went, these folks wouldn’t want to do anything to cross the speaker — like vote against his son.

It was only a few weeks ago that there was talk that Ben Ray Luján could be the only candidate March 15 to get the required 20 percent of the delegate vote.

But the Legislature, with almost no opposition, passed Senate Bill 1, which allows candidates who don’t make the cut at the pre-primary convention to gather more petitions to get on the ballot. Ben Ray Luján appeared before at least one committee to endorse the bill. Gov. Bill Richardson signed it Friday.

At the community college Saturday, it was apparent that Santa Fe developer/green builder Don Wiviott also had strong support — mainly in the form of new people who had never before participated in ward meetings whom the Wiviott campaign brought in. Other candidates — Harry Montoya, Benny Shendo Jr., Jon Adams and Rudy Martin — had supporters there too, but did not seem as visible as Luján and Wiviott, who plastered the college with their posters and their supporters with stickers.

It still is impossible to tell at this point how many of the county’s 166 elected delegates in the 3rd Congressional District are going to which candidates. But — barring anything unforeseen and off-the-chart bizarre — I’m pretty sure Luján won’t be the only one with 20 percent or more March 15.

To be sure, the younger Luján is the favorite of the party regulars. He got by far the most applause Saturday at the county convention, which consisted mostly of state Central Committee members, and the two at-large delegates elected by that group both were Luján supporters.

Furthermore, Luján’s first campaign-finance report showed he’s tapping into Richardson’s base of financial supporters.

The real test for Luján will be the primary itself.

A race growing nastier: The rhetoric in the 3rd District race is escalating, but it’s not between Luján and Wiviott, but Adams and Wiviott.

Adams, a lawyer, filed a lawsuit last month claiming Wiviott didn’t have enough petition signatures to be considered at the pre-primary convention.

That’s not unusual. Patsy Trujillo, a supporter of Luján’s, did the same thing with Rudy Martin, a Dixon lawyer. And, for you history buffs, Diane Denish did the same thing to state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque in the 2002 lieutenant governor’s race.

What haven’t been typical are Adams’ responses to Wiviott’s legal responses to the lawsuit.

Last week, Adams e-mailed a news release saying Wiviott’s lawyers had been calling him “almost nonstop ... repeatedly threatening to subpoena and depose Adams, even though all the information about the signatures is in the lawsuit, and Adams’ signatures are not in issue.”

The release claimed Wiviott “filed a surprise request to dismiss the case without allowing a hearing or a response to the brief seeking dismissal, a highly unusual request that would be almost unprecedented.”

Actually, people being sued routinely seek to have their cases dismissed.

Adams, in the same news release, also claimed Wiviott was “trying to bribe people with free dinners to be delegates for them to the state nominating convention.”

This prompted Wiviott campaign manager Caroline Buerkle last week to say of Adams, “He’s a fringe candidate throwing around bizarre and baseless charges.”

Wiviott filed another motion in the case, prompting Adams to fire off another news release, saying the new motion was filed “before Adams had a chance to respond to the first motion to dismiss.”

“Wiviott is desperate to avoid a hearing on the merits because he knows he doesn’t have enough signatures,” the release said. “Moreover, he knows I am out of town visiting my mother who is waiting for a heart transplant, and for him to file this surprise motion with more false and misleading accusations at this time really shows a lack of regard for human decency.”

Asked about the second news release, Buerkle said, “We’re confident in our signatures and believe this sideshow of a lawsuit will be dismissed. Don won’t be distracted. He’s focused on his campaign and talking to voters about how he’ll fight for change in Washington.”

But alas, the case will not be decided by news releases — or newspaper columnists. A motions hearing is scheduled to be heard at 1:30 p.m. today before state District Judge Daniel Sanchez.

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