Sunday, June 18, 2006


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 18, 2006

ALBUQUERQUE — Following the abrupt withdrawal of Republican gubernatorial candidate J.R. Damron from the race, GOP leaders meeting behind closed doors Saturday named former state party chairman John Dendahl to run against incumbent Gov. Bill Richardson.

Dendahl described the nomination by the state Republican Central Committee as a “wonderful homecoming.” Three years ago, the committee ousted Dendahl as state chairman in a bitter contest.

Dendahl was nominated by acclamation, state GOP chairman Allen Weh told reporters following the meeting. He noted that many present who voted for Dendahl on Saturday had voted against him in 2003. “This party is very, very unified,” Weh said.

Damron, a Santa Fe physician and political novice, mailed a letter Friday to the secretary of state officially withdrawing from the race, Weh told reporters.

Damron, who left the meeting before reporters were allowed in, didn’t explain exactly why he decided to quit the race. One campaign staffer said the move was “100 percent voluntary.”

In recent weeks, some Republicans have complained privately that the Damron campaign had not been aggressive enough in the race against Richardson, whose poll numbers remain high and whose money-raising ability has dwarfed Damron’s.

By the first of June, the incumbent reported about $5.7 million in the bank. Damron had just over $43,000 and campaign debts totaling $120,000.

“I’ve got to start at scratch,” Dendahl said Saturday. “We have to find out whether there’s serious Republicans in this state and out of state who will help finance this campaign.”

But Dendahl said he doesn’t have to match Richardson “dollar for dollar” to run a credible campaign.

Dendahl has written a political column for The New Mexican and other newspapers in recent years. “I’m able to make terse, clear statements to clearly and concisely articulate why Bill Richardson’s approach is so bad for our state,” he said.

Dendahl, 67, headed what was then the Tourism and Economic Development Department in the 1980s under the Gov. Garrey Carruthers. He ran for the GOP nomination for governor in 1994, losing to Gary Johnson in the primary.

While Dendahl has never been afraid to take off the gloves with any political opponent, Democrats on Saturday didn’t hesitate to attack Dendahl’s nomination.

“For the Republicans to nominate a negative-campaigning partisan in a last-minute political deal strikes me as an act of desperation,” said Dave Contarino, Richardson’s chief political adviser. “A lot of right-thinking Republicans are going to scratch their heads. Dendahl has been divisive in his own party.”

One Republican at the meeting was less than enthusiastic about Dendahl. “We couldn’t have chosen a more divisive candidate,” said former Gov. David Cargo, long known as a party maverick.

In an e-mail statement, state Democratic Party chairman John Wertheim called Dendahl, “a venomous and divisive radical.”

Both Contarino and Wertheim immediately seized upon an issue that got Dendahl in trouble with his own party: drug-law reform. During the last term of Gov. Johnson’s administration, Dendahl strongly backed Johnson’s efforts to decriminalize marijuana.

On Saturday, Dendahl said he’d told state party leaders that his gubernatorial campaign would not “have the luxury of pioneering new policies” because he’ll be too focused on pointing out flaws in Richardson’s policies.

Polls in New Mexico show strong support for at least one of the ideas Dendahl backed — making marijuana legal for treating certain serious illnesses. Richardson this year endorsed a bill that would have established a state medical-marijuana program.

Though Contarino said Richardson is looking forward to “a public debate” over the issues during the campaign, he said it’s too early to say whether the governor would debate Dendahl one-on-one.

Dendahl said he first heard about Damron’s decision to withdraw early last week. Lieutenant governor candidate Sue Beffort Wilson said she only learned about it Friday.

Damron’s withdrawal comes only two weeks after he won the Republican primary. He only had a write-in opponent in the primary.

Also about two weeks ago, Damron announced he was closing his medical practice in Santa Fe. He is president of Santa Fe Radiology.

Though Damron was considered a political unknown, he’d been active in county Republican politics, serving as treasurer of the Santa Fe County GOP.

He started out the year aggressively campaigning against Richardson. Shortly after Richardson’s state-of-the-state address on the first day of the state Legislature’s session in January, Damron came to the Capitol Rotunda and gave a response, blasting Richardson for traveling too much and for increasing the governor’s staff as well as for transportation proposals including the planned spaceport and passenger-rail system.

In May, he made a speech blasting Richardson for running “the most corrupt administration in our state’s history.”

At least one of his attacks proved untrue, however. Damron recently claimed Richardson had convinced the Legislature to increase the number of days the governor could travel out of state. No such legislation ever passed.

Damron’s campaign manager Greg Graves quit in April, and no one was hired to replace him.

There appeared to be personal animosity between Damron and Richardson.

In April, Damron’s wife, Barbara, said she had been “pressured” to resign from the St. Vincent Regional Medical Center’s governing board by hospital officials who feared retribution from Richardson.

According to Barbara Damron, hospital president Alex Valdez told her that her presence on the board might jeopardize state funds for St. Vincent. When asked about that statement, Valdez said, “I don’t respond to rumors.” A Richardson spokesman denied the governor forced Barbara Damron off the board.

Prior to J.R. Damron’s announcement, Graves, a former executive director of the state Republican Party, said before he left the Damron campaign in April, he advised the candidate to “think very strongly if he really wanted to do this or not.” J.R. Damron at the time said he wanted to go through with the campaign, Graves said.

Also on Saturday, the GOP chose another candidate for the state auditor’s race. Albuquerque accountant Lorenzo Garcia will replace Daniel Alvarez, who withdrew his candidacy. Garcia is up against Democrat Jeff Armijo in the general election.


John Dendahl

Age: 67

Residence: Santa Fe

Education: Bachelor’s degree, electrical engineering, business administration, University of Colorado, 1961

Past government experience: Secretary of Economic Development and Tourism, 1988-90

Past political experience: Chairman of New Mexico Republican Party, 1995-2003; sought GOP nomination for governor, 1994

Other work: Newspaper columnist; property manager; president First National Bank of Santa Fe; real-estate developer; former chief executive officer of Eberline Instrument Co., a Santa Fe firm now known as Thermo, that manufactures radiation-measuring equipment

Civic: Former chairman of the St. John’s College board; former member of Santa Fe Opera board

Personal: Wife, Jackie Dendahl; five children, two stepchildren, nine grandchildren. Dendahl was a member of the 1960 Olympic Cross Country Ski team. His father grew up on the land where the present state Capitol now stands.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:08 PM

    This gives the Jack Nicholson's horror film phrase, "Here's Johnny," a whole new meaning for Richardson.

    I support Dendahl 100% and am not surprised to see the GOP Central Committee turn to him in their time of need. Many predicted something like this when Gorham was elected.


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