Sunday, February 5, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: The Return of the Bull Moose

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 5, 2012

Baby boomers may recall an old TV Western called Branded starring Chuck Connors. In the opening segment, Jason McCord, played by Connors, is at an Old West military outpost being marched before a commanding officer. 

As McCord stands straight, square-jawed and silent, the much-shorter commanding officer violently yanks the hat off McCord's head, rips the epaulets off his shoulders and the buttons from his shirt, then finally takes McCord's sword and breaks it over his knee. McCord walks out of the fort as soldiers close the gates behind him. 

Former Sen. Shannon Robinson
"That's what the progressives did to me," former state Sen. Shannon Robinson told me in an interview last week, describing the opening of Branded. 

Nobody actually broke Robinson's sword or ripped his buttons. But in June 2008, Robinson, who had represented his southeastern Albuquerque district for 20 years, lost a bitterly fought Democratic primary to a political newcomer, Tim Keller. 

Robinson blamed his loss partly on a full-color mailer produced and distributed by the Center for Civic Policy and other progressive groups that attacked Robinson's ethics. Two other Democratic legislators who were the subjects of similar mailers also lost their primaries that year. 

So, as the theme song went, "What do you do when you're branded and you know you're a man?" 

In Robinson's case, you switch parties and run for your old seat. Late last year, Robinson changed his registration from Democrat to Republican. The person who handled the registration was none other than former state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates. 

When I asked if he was running against Keller, Robinson said, "That's the plan." Asked if he was going to have a formal announcement, he said, "I thought that's what this was." 

Robinson, a lawyer with a flair for the dramatic, perhaps was best known for his fiery floor speeches in the Senate. He usually was passionate, sometimes bombastic and never dull. 

He said one reason he's running is because of an increase in crime in District 17, which includes the area south of Central Avenue now called The International Zone, though some have less cheerfully referred to the area as "The War Zone." 

He said the laundry where he takes his dry cleaning has been the target of three armed robberies in recent years. "The last time someone held a gun at the lady's head," Robinson said. 

"There are serious security problems that aren't being dealt with," he said. "We have to rebuild property values there. There's a lot that needs to be done." 

Robinson sometimes used to refer to himself politically as a Bull Moose, after Teddy Roosevelt's old third party. Bull Mooses, he said in a 2002 speech on the Senate floor, are united by issues related to tobacco, alcohol and outdoor sports such as shooting and boating. "Trucks and guns ... and cows. Anything having to do with cows." 

The fact that he was a driving force in passing the state law permitting the carrying of concealed handguns should make him popular with Republicans. But some in the GOP might have to overlook some things about Robinson, such as the fact that for a while, he frequently criticized the Iraq War on the Senate floor. And he was behind a peace conference that was held in Santa Fe a few years ago. ("Some of us are for that sort of thing," a prominent Republican activist told me last week when I mentioned the subject.) 

Robinson told me he missed being in the Legislature. "I always considered it an honor to serve, and I tried to conduct myself in a way to reflect that honor," he said. 

I'm not in the business of choosing sides. I like Keller, too. But the Robinson/Keller rematch should be fun to watch.

(Here's what Robinson said the progressives did to him in 2008)