Thursday, November 5, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Spinning the 09 Elections

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 5, 2009

It was predictable that the smattering of elections in distant states this week would bring out New Mexico politicians who would spin the results as favorable to themselves.

The Republican victories in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races gave New Mexico Republicans a chance to crow. State GOP chairman Harvey Yates released a statement headlined "Republican Victories in VA and NJ Sign of Future Wins in 2010." Gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh released a statement Tuesday night saying, "What is happening nationally is being felt right here at home."

In her own news release, one of Weh's rivals, Susana Martinez, made a subtle effort to identify with the winner in New Jersey. "Chris Christie, a prosecutor with a record of holding corrupt public officials to account, carried a Democratic state that has been plagued by corruption scandals." Martinez, who is district attorney in Las Cruces, has described herself in similar terms.

Of course, none of the Republican statements mentioned the fact that while the GOP did sweep the two governor's races, Democrats made a new gain of two congressional seats in Tuesday's elections — one in that crazy upstate New York race, the other in California.

But those races weren't what the New Mexico's Democratic Party was spinning.

"While Republican leaders are focused on election results in other states, here in New Mexico, Democratic candidates built on the energy and enthusiasm created during the 2008 elections to claim victories in yesterday's city election in Las Cruces," State Democratic chairman Javier Gonzales said in a news release Wednesday.

"I'd like to congratulate Olga Pedroza, Gill Sorg and Sharon Thomas on their impressive victories," Gonzales said. "Democrats are organizing in all regions of New Mexico, continuing the movement Obama built in 2008, and we are well-positioned to win big again in 2010."

It's true. Pedroza, Sorg and Thomas all won their city council races. And indeed, all three are Democrats.

One little detail Gonzales left out, though. According to Walt Rubel, a former member of the state Capitol press corps who now is editor of the Las Cruces Sun News, in two of those races, the losing candidates also were Democrats. Like Santa Fe and other cities in the state, municipal elections are, officially at least, nonpartisan.

Rubel said the real split in the Cruces council races was progressive Democrats vs. more conservative "pro-business" Democrats. In all three races, the progressives won.

But had Dolores Archuleta defeated Pedroza and/or Gil Jones beat Sorg, Gonzales could have written the same news release — and just changed the names.

Come to your census: The envelope had a serious message in bold black letters: "Do Not Destroy. Official Document." Inside was a document that kind of resembled tax forms or the statements from the Social Security Administration. "2009 Congressional District Census" it said. It even had a "Census Tracking Code" — No. N09P1053 to be exact.

But it wasn't from the U.S. Census. The "Special Notice" at the top of the page said, "You have been selected to represent Republican voters in New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District. Enclosed please find documents registered in your name."

The funny thing is, the person it was registered to was Earl Potter, a Santa Fe lawyer who happens to be a former state Democratic Party chairman.

Along with the "census" document — which turns out to be a written poll on several national issues — was a letter from National Republican Committee chairman Michael Steele, who told Potter, "Because of your high level of political involvement and steadfast commitment to the Republican Party, your personal input on the questions presented in your Census Document is critical to our party's future."

Potter assured me he's still a Democrat. He also didn't fill out the "census" questions, which I guess jeopardizes the future of the GOP.