Monday, February 27, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Did Auditor Spat Push Harden Out?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 26 2012

Did the well-publicized feud between Public Regulation Commissioner Pat Lyons and State Auditor Hector Balderas lead indirectly to State Sen. Clint Harden getting a challenger in the Republican primary?

Sen. Harden
Lyons denies it, but Harden — who decided not to seek another Senate term after Lyons’ niece, Angie Spears, announced her candidacy against him — thinks it might be a factor.

Harden last week told me that he and his wife had decided last year that he would seek one more term representing the northeastern Senate District 7 — unless he got a primary opponent.

Then, just a couple of days before the legislative session ended, Spears, a 37-year-old mother of four, a former state Senate bill analyst and director of a Clovis counseling agency, announced she would seek the seat. “We need leaders with the courage to stand up to the status quo and fight for real reforms. New Mexicans are fed up with politicians who don’t represent their views,” she said in a news release.

PRC Commissioner Lyons
The release contained endorsements of two powerful Republicans in the district — Lyons, her uncle, who had held the seat for 10 years before Harden, and Matt Chandler, the district attorney in Clovis and GOP nominee for attorney general last year, who is related to Spears through marriage.

The weekend after the session, Harden announced he would not seek re-election. “I just didn’t want to run in a primary and then against a Democrat in November,” he told me. “I just don’t like the ugliness of the political arena. It’s too hyperpartisan.”

A primary had potential for nastiness. Harden said constituents had received robo-calls blasting him. The pre-recorded call accused him of voting for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. “It didn’t mention that was the 2003 vote,” Harden said. He’s since voted to repeal the bill.

Angie Spears
Harden said he doesn’t have any proof, but he suspects Gov. Susana Martinez might have been behind the challenge. The governor, he thinks, might not like the fact that Harden was the only Republican senator to vote in favor of Sen. Linda Lopez’s bill that would have required intervention and remediation for third-graders not proficient in reading. Lopez’s bill was the Democrats’ alternate to Martinez’s bill that would require such third-graders to be retained.

“I made it clear that I would vote for any bill to help kids read,” Harden said.

He also said Martinez probably didn’t like his vote in favor of Senate Democratic Leader Michael Sanchez’s bill that would require some criminal records to be expunged. But he wasn’t alone there. A strong majority of Republican senators also voted for that bill.

Spears, by the way, denies that Martinez was behind her candidacy. She noted that Martinez didn’t endorse her until Harden dropped out.

But, asked about Lyons, Harden said he also got on the commissioner’s bad side when he declined to sponsor a proposed constitutional amendment that Lyons had asked him to carry. That measure would have made the office of state auditor an appointed, not an elected, position. It also would have required the auditor to be a certified public accountant. Balderas is a lawyer, not a CPA.

Early during the session, Balderas called upon Lyons to resign from the PRC for improper use of a state vehicle. Lyons said Balderas was trying to score points in his U.S. Senate race. It wasn’t the first time the two had been at each other’s throats.

“I just didn’t want to get involved in that,” Harden said.

Lyons confirmed that he asked Harden to sponsor the legislation but denied he holds a grudge that Harden declined. “I like Clint. He’s a good guy.” Lyons also said he never talked to Martinez about running someone against Harden. “The governor never talks to me,” he said.

Harden, who is known as a champion for children with autism, said he intends to remain active in that and other areas.

For a look at other changes coming in the Legislature see my Saturday story in the New Mexican.