Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Gov Fight Getting Nasty Fast

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 10, 2010

It’s just a little more than a week since the primary and already we’re ankle-deep in negative campaign ads in the governor’s race.

It’s going to be a long election.

I’m not going to wring my hands and tsk tsk too dramatically here. Like most political junkies, I take a perverse pleasure in negative ads — just like pro-wrestling fans love seeing the bad guy sneak up and smash a metal folding chair over the referee’s head.

But besides the sheer vitriol, the thing that stands out for me in the initial round of Diane Denish and Susana Martinez ads is that the major concern of both campaigns appears to be crime.

I haven’t been a crime reporter for several years, but did I miss the big story about a huge leap in the state’s crime rate? Did I miss the poll showing that crime — not jobs, not the economy — was the major issue on New Mexico voters’ minds?

Considering that Republican Martinez is a district attorney, a focus on crime probably is to be expected. Denish, jumping in just two days after the primary, accused Martinez of putting “criminals back on the street.”
NM Legislature 2010
That first Denish attack ad, which contended that state Administrative Office of the Courts statistics show Martinez has the worst conviction rate of all district attorneys with regard to homicide, immediately was contested by Martinez, who said the AOC statistics weren’t an accurate measure of conviction rates.

This quickly devolved into a hissing match over statistics, which might have led some observers to recall the adage popularized by Mark Twain about “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Painting Martinez as soft on crime, by the way, could be risky. Earlier this week, she was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the state’s largest law-enforcement organization. One law-enforcement officer who is not a Republican recently told me that Martinez is popular among some Democratic sheriffs around the state.

Martinez on Wednesday fired back with an ad that in a mere 30 seconds linked Denish to illegal immigrants, child molesters and (gulp) Bill Richardson. Wow! Triple score!

The current governor appeared in the final moments of the ad along with a Denish quote that she’s been a “loyal soldier” in the current administration.

Most of the rest dealt with an illegal immigrant named Juan Gonzales, who is accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl in Albuquerque. Gonzales had been accused of sex crimes before he turned 18. Martinez’s ad says he was allowed to stay in the country because the state Children, Youth and Families Department had a policy against reporting juvenile criminals who are illegal immigrants to federal immigration authorities.

The Denish connection? CFYD is part of “Denish’s Cabinet,” i.e. the Children’s Cabinet. Denish’s campaign, in its official rebuttal to the ad, points out that the lieutenant governor doesn’t really have authority over the departments in the Children’s Cabinet and says she hadn’t been aware of the policy in question.

It’s doubtful that many television viewers are going to look into the actual facts behind such ads. First time I watched it on YouTube, I thought they were implying that Denish had appointed an illegal immigrant/child molester to the Children’s Cabinet.

“At a time when most New Mexicans are worried about their jobs and paying the bills, Susana Martinez would rather scare them with far-fetched and ludicrous attacks,” a Denish spokesman declared in a statement Wednesday. “... Diane Denish remains focused not only on keeping New Mexico’s families safe, but also on turning this economy around.”

Martinez, meanwhile, said this week in an interview with the Alamogordo Daily News that “Denish is doing it to avoid discussing the issues that are important to New Mexicans. We’ve got to start talking about what’s important to them.”

So I guess the next ads from both camps will be about those important issues. What do you bet?