Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Family Affairs

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 21, 2011

Is it a case of high-level nepotism? Or are they just the cutest couple on the Fourth Floor?

Late in May, Gov. Susana Martinez’s office hired Alexis Valdez Darnell for the position of operations director. It’s an exempt position, which means she serves at the pleasure of the governor.

She makes $75,000 a year, slightly less than her husband Scott Darnell, Martinez’s communications director and chief spokesman. He makes just under $80,000.

The governor’s chief of staff, Keith Gardner, defended the hire.

“There is no conflict, because she and Scott have completely different responsibilities and do not report to, nor supervise, one another,” Gardner said in an e-mail to me Wednesday. Both the Darnells report directly to Gardner.

All in the Family: The Darnells aren’t the only relatives to work for a New Mexico governor in recent history. Bill Richardson hired Eric Witt to serve as his legislative liaison and point man on film-industry issues and Lee Witt, Eric’s mom, as an aide to First Lady Barbara Richardson.

Prior to that, Gary Johnson’s chief of staff Lou Gallegos worked in the governor’s office at the same time his wife Rita Nunez worked there too.

A serious threat?: For months the state’s political writers — myself included — might have been short-changing Mr. Short-Bald-and-Honest.

Almost everything written about the Republican Senate race deals with former Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. Sometimes the lesser-known Greg Sowards and Bill English are mentioned as “long-shot” candidates.

However, in the last round of campaign finance reporting, Sowards — whose website is — pulled a surprise. He raised a respectable $230,000 in the last quarter and reported $334,000 cash on hand. Since he first announced -- which was even before incumbent Sen. Jeff Bingaman announced he wouldn't seek anouther term -The Las Cruces businessman has contributed more than $200,000 of his own money to the campaign.

The Washington D.C. publication The Hill wrote that Sowards’ report showed “ a promising early sum for an unknown candidate. If he continues to fundraise at that pace, he could have enough money be a factor in the race.”

Sanchez raised $311,987 in the last quarter. Of that, $200,000 of that was money he gave himself. Sanchez basically self-financed his own successful campaign for lieutenant governor in last year’s GOP primary, but it’s going to be harder to do that in the Senate race. The Sanchez campaign was quick to point out that his totals for that quarter represent only represent “26 business days” because he declared his candidacy in late May.

Wilson, who is leading in the polls, also blew away both competitors in the money race She raised $450,000 in the last quarter and, as of the end of June, had more than $600,00 in the bank.

I’m yet to be convinced that Sowards is going to be a threat to Wilson. However, he might become a major annoyance for Sanchez. The two are working the right side of the street fighting for the “true conservative” vote.

In a recent campaign e-mail Sowards quoted a recent Jay Miller column about the race. Miller said Sowards’ “unwavering conservatism could weigh heavily in his favor” in the column headlined “Who is Conservative Enough?”

“With candidates like Heather Wilson and John Sanchez, voters actually should be asking, ‘Is either a real conservative?’,” Sowards wrote.