Thursday, March 20, 2008

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: PROGRESSIVE ABQ DEMS CHALLENGE INCUMBENTS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 20, 2008


Two incumbent state senators from Albuquerque are facing primary challenges by reform-minded Democrats employing the same new political consulting company.
Eric Griego
Former Albuquerque City Councilor Eric Griego, who currently heads the liberal advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children, is running against Sen. James Taylor in the South Valley District 14 once held by former Senate powerhouse Manny Aragon. (A third candidate, political novice Al Armijo, also is running in that district.)

Meanwhile, political newcomer Tim Keller is running in District 17 against 20-year incumbent Sen. Shannon Robinson.

Managing both challengers’ campaigns is Neri Holguin, a veteran of New Mexico politics since 2000. Holguin, who recently headed The Wilderness Society in the state, was campaign director for Soltari, an Albuquerque firm that no longer runs political races.

She’s also managing the Senate campaign of former Bernalillo County Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, who is running against John Blair in the Senate District 15 Democratic primary to see who will face incumbent Republican Sen. Diane Snyder in November.

Holguin’s workload got somewhat easier Tuesday when one of her clients, Santa Fe lawyer Brian Egolf, received no opposition in his House District 47 race.
Tim Keller
Holguin said Wednesday that Griego, Keller and Eichenberg are not running as a part of any slate.

“Both are messengers of change,” she said. “We just need better representation up in Santa Fe. But there’s nothing coordinated. I’m just fortunate to have three high-caliber candidates.”

Still, Griego and Keller are running similar campaigns against their incumbent primary opponents.

Both have been endorsed by the Conservation Voters New Mexico. Both appeared earlier this month at a Meet-up for Democracy for America/Democracy for New Mexico, a liberal activist group.
Sen. Shannon Robinson
“Both Griego and Keller stressed their strong commitment to needed reforms related to ethics, campaign finance, health care, education and a living wage,” the Democracy for New Mexico blog said. “They explained how crucial it is for those who advocate change to band together and work hard to replace legislators more interested in protecting the status quo than reforming a broken system. Only grass-roots action and determination can elect Democrats who will work on behalf of the people instead of the monied special interests.”

Both candidates list ethics reform — an issue that neither Taylor nor Robinson have warmly embraced — as a top priority.

Ethics bills routinely pass the House, but few actually get floor votes in the Senate, where they tend to die slow deaths in committees. Taylor scores slightly higher in ethics floor votes than Robinson. He voted for the bill to limit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, which Robinson voted against. Taylor also voted for concurrence on House amendments to a 2007 bill to limit campaign contributions, while Robinson was one of four Democrats to vote against concurrence, effectively killing the bill.

In the related area of legislative openness, both Robinson and Taylor have voted against opening conference committees. Taylor this year voted against legislation to webcast Senate floor sessions. Robinson was absent for that vote.
Sen. James Taylor
Both Taylor and Robinson are canny and experienced politicians who won’t be easy to beat.

The often pugnacious Robinson has won five terms — though he hasn’t had an election opponent in 12 years. He’s delivered some of the most passionate and entertaining speeches on the Senate floor in recent years. (For the sake of full disclosure, without Robinson in the Senate, this newspaper’s “Quote of the Day” feature during the legislative session would suffer greatly.)

Taylor, who served nine years in the state House, the past four years as majority whip, was described by Gov. Bill Richardson as “one of the best natural politicians in New Mexico, in terms of getting things done, in terms of operating in a political arena and in terms of his commitment to his district.” Richardson appointed Taylor to his seat when Aragon left the Senate to take a job as president of New Mexico Highlands University. (Aragon since resigned that job after a stormy two-year tenure. He’s currently awaiting trial on federal charges in a kickback scandal involving his last years in the Senate.)

However it goes, these two races promise to be among the most interesting legislative primary battles.

Remember Jeannette!: Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, doesn’t have to worry about primary opposition. As usual, nobody is challenging her for her District 43 seat, which she’s held since 1991.
Rep. Jeanette Wallace
Wallace, in an e-mail Wednesday, said she was hurt when we failed to mention her in a story about candidates filing.

“My district is a beautiful area, it is Los Alamos, all of the beautiful Jemez Mountains and some of the most peaceful as well as controversial areas of Santa Fe,” she wrote. “I do represent a very old part of Santa Fe which is facing growth (La Cienega, La Cieneguilla, Aqua Fría, etc.). ... Santa Fe is just as important to me as Peña Blanca, Ponderosa, La Cueva, or Los Alamos. ... My district includes the Santa Fe airport, it includes the Game and Fish Dept. It also includes an area that goes back a very long time to stage coaches and sheep grazing.”

We regret the omission. And before Rep. Rhonda King writes in, let’s note that the Stanley Democrat also filed on Tuesday and faces no primary or general election opponent in District 50.

UPDATE: I corrected a couple of errors here. Conservation Voters New Mexico endorsed Griego and Keller. I originally said "League of Conservation Voters" -- which is the national organization. Also, I had the wrong Senate district number for the Robinson/Keller race.

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