Thursday, September 17, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Candidate School

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 17, 2009

Attention candidates and potential candidates of any party: The Secretary of State’s Office is hosting “candidacy seminars” at the Roundhouse next week in an effort to teach budding politicians the basics of filing for public office and convey some general understanding of election laws and regulations.

The free three-hour workshops — scheduled for 9 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. Wednesday — will cover such topics as opening a campaign account, campaign finance reporting laws, withdrawal dates, hardship exceptions for online reporting, financial disclosure requirements, in-kind contributions, etc.

Anyone covered under the Campaign Reporting Act is eligible to attend. That basically means candidates for state and county offices.

This is a good idea. The campaign laws constantly are changing. For instance, this year is the first nonelection year in which not one but two campaign finance reports are required. The next one is due Oct. 13. I wonder how many bozos are going to miss that deadline, pleading ignorance.

But there’s a few items not listed in the news release that really ought to be included in any candidacy seminars. Here’s a few of those:

* Stand on your record. If you’ve got a drunken-driving arrest or a domestic-violence charge in your past, either be willing to come forward about that right away, or drop out before those questions start being asked. Don’t count on bad record keeping by some local courts to protect you. These things have a way of surfacing.

* Don’t report expenditures not actually spent. Call this the “Jerome Block Jr. Rule.” No matter how his criminal case turns out, you can bet the public regulation commissioner wishes now that he hadn’t reported paying that band that never played at that campaign rally that never happened last year.

* Don’t make accusations or insinuations against your opponent that you can’t prove. You’ll only hurt yourself and make your opponent sympathetic. In last year’s 3rd Congressional District primary race, candidate Benny Shendo said front-runner Ben Ray Luján wasn’t being honest about his “lifestyle.” Luján’s now a congressman, and nobody’s talking about Shendo running for any office.

* Always return reporters’ phone calls. I know that seems self-serving. But it’s not, really. It’s actually much easier for us to just type “couldn’t be reached for comment” or “refused to return phone calls” after your name. But people do start to notice after awhile, and they’ll only think you’re hiding something.

To attend the candidacy seminar, call Tessa Jo Mascarenas or Tracy Littrell at the Secretary of State’s Office, 827-3600. Reservations must be made by Tuesday.

“Actively running” for now: One potential candidate who said she doesn’t know whether she’ll attend the candidacy seminar is Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza, who every day is seeming more and more like a challenger to incumbent and fellow Democrat Secretary of State Mary Herrera.

“I’m actively running,” Espinoza said in an interview Wednesday, although she said she’s yet to make a final decision about taking the plunge. She’s opened a campaign account and is seeking contributions. And she’s agreed to appear at a Santa Fe County Democratic Party forum for secretary of state candidates next month.

Espinoza also has commissioned a poll, which, she said shows Herrera with an early lead — although Espinoza said her Washington, D.C., pollster says she has potential for “a strong finish.”

Not surprising, Espinoza said, Herrera, a former Bernalillo County clerk, leads in Albuquerque, while Espinoza leads in the North.

Herrera’s actively running herself. She’s got one of her old 2006 primary rivals, Letitia Montoya, managing her campaign in the north. And there was a fundraiser for Herrera planned in Santa Fe on Wednesday night.

Before she makes her final decision and officially declares, Espinoza said she has to take a hard look at those numbers and start raising real money.

“I want it so bad, I can taste it,” said Espinoza, who worked under former Secretaries of State Shirley Hooper and Clara Jones. “But I have to evaluate the cost.”