Sunday, May 27, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Dust-up in Clovis

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
May 27, 2012

It's not as if this area doesn't have enough interesting legislative races to follow. But still my attention keeps getting drawn eastward toward the Clovis area. And that's true of political junkies all over the state. That's the Republican primary race where two political newcomers, Angie Spears, director of a Clovis counseling agency, and rancher Pat Woods are vying to fill the Senate District 7 seat being vacated by Sen. Clint Harden.

Angie Spears
At first glance it would appear that Spears would have a clear edge. She's raised the most money in the race with about $28,000 in the bank as of the last campaign finance report. Woods had about $500 going into the last days of the campaign.

Spears' uncle is Public Regulation Commissioner Pat Lyons, a former state land commissioner who held that state Senate seat for 10 years. She's also related by marriage to Clovis District Attorney Matt Chandler. But most significantly, Spears has the enthusiastic endorsement of the most popular Republican politician in the state, Gov. Susana Martinez.

But that's where it's been interesting. Spears jumped in the race right before the end of the legislative session. Harden dropped out a few days later. About 10 minutes after Harden's announcement (OK, I might be exaggerating a little), Martinez endorsed her. Martinez's political director Jay McCleskey was hired by Spears' campaign. The guv's political action committee contributed $5,000 to Spears.

Shortly after he dropped out, Harden told me he suspected that the governor recruited Spears to run against him. (He also suspected Lyons might be behind it because of a recent disagreement. Lyons vehemently denied it.)
Pat Woods

At the time, Spears was the only announced candidate. By filing day, Woods had emerged. Martinez this week was asked about getting involved in a contested Republican primary. She said the Legislature needs people "who are going to reform New Mexico, who are going to change New Mexico. ... And I have no apologies for doing so."

Some believe that the race will be a real test of the governor's power to mold the Legislature and its Republican caucuses.

Predictably, the race has gotten nasty. Blogger Joe Monahan has published a couple of mailers from the District 7 race. Spears sent one pointing out that Woods in the past has contributed money to Democratic legislators -- or in the language of the mailer, "He funds liberal Democrats who support giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants."

The mailer also ties Wood to the "liberal" Senate president pro-tem. That "liberal" is Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, who won the post a few years ago by forging a coalition between all Senate Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats.

This reminds me of a classic McCleskey attack on another Clovis Republican. When former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley was running for governor in 2002, McCleskey was handling the campaign of his rival, John Sanchez. Sanchez unleashed ads and mailers implying that Bradley was in league with Senate Democrat powerhouse Manny Aragon.

But Woods struck back, sending a mailer with an unflattering photo of McCleskey, whom he called a "slick ABQ political consultant" whom Spears has paid $10,000 for "mudslinging and negative attacks."

Some believe the conservative but independent-minded Republicans of District 7 might indeed resent the big city political types telling them how to vote.

But a former Republican lawmaker not involved in the battle doesn't think so. Average GOP voters don't care about political consultants and the stuff that political junkies do. Martinez is very popular, especially among his party, the Republican noted. That'll be enough to get Spears elected, he said.

He might be right. But it's still a race worth watching.

Note: On Saturday, the Clovis News Journal published a poll showing Spears seven percentage points ahead of Woods. But here's some big grains of salt: The paper cautioned that the margin of error was 6.8 percent (only 201 Republicans were surveyed) and 31 percent were undecided.

Here's  those flyers, stolen from Joe Monahan. Click either to see slightly larger copies.