Monday, August 20, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: A Family Write-In Campaign

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 19 2012

A woman’s place is in the House. A man’s is in the Senate. That could almost be the motto of an Albuquerque couple — Bob Anderson and his wife, Jeanne Pahls, both of whom are running as write-in candidates in New Mexico this year.

Bob Anderson
Anderson, a political science professor at Central New Mexico Community College, is a declared write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Pahls, an Albuquerque teacher, is running for the open seat in the 1st Congressional District. (There’s no write-in candidate here in the 3rd Congressional District.)

Currently, there is only one married couple in Congress, U.S. Reps. Connie Mack of Florida and Mary Bono of California.

 “We hadn’t really thought of that,” said Anderson in a telephone interview last week when asked about the novelty of the situation. “Jeanne and I were just talking about how there’s no choices really in the Senate and House races here. … Heinrich and Wilson both seem to be the candidates of the military-industrial complex.”

So the couple, both of whom have a long history of involvement in civil rights, war protests and other progressive causes, both decided to run.

Anderson is running against Democrat Martin Heinrich, who is giving up his seat in Congress to run, and Republican Heather Wilson, who served in the House for 10 years. Anderson has run against Wilson before. In 1998, when Wilson first won her seat in Congress, she defeated Democrat Phil Maloof and Anderson, who ran as a Green Party candidate candidate. Anderson got 10 percent of the vote in the general election that year.

Pahls faces Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Janice Arnold-Jones in the race for the House seat currently held by Heinrich and formerly by Wilson.

Pencil power: Both Anderson and Pahls have adopted the pencil as a symbol and the slogan “Write for New Mexico” in their campaigns to emphasize that they are write-in candidates.

In New Mexico, it’s easy to become a declared write-in candidate. No messy petitions, no primaries, no conventions. You just have to show up at the Secretary of State’s Office 21 days after the June primary and file a declaration of intent. Under current state law, the only write-in ballots that are counted are those of official declared write-in candidates. (So no, your vote for Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob Squarepants will not count.)

The hard part is winning as a write-in. The last successful write-in congressional candidate in New Mexico was the late Joe Skeen, who won his 2nd District seat in 1980. But Skeen was a special case. Democratic U.S. Rep Harold Runnels died in office after that year’s primary.

Jeanne Pahls
No Republican had filed to run against the popular Runnels, so no GOP candidate was on the ballot. Skeen became the de facto Republican candidate. And he was helped by the fact that the Democrats were split. The party nominated David King to run, which angered Runnels’ widow, Dorothy, who also ran as a write-in.

Name identification wasn’t a problem for Skeen in 1980. Not only had he served in the state Senate for a decade or so, he’d been the Republican nominee for governor twice in the 1970s, losing two very close races. (He’d also been on the GOP ticket as Pete Domenici’s running mate in the 1970 gubernatorial race.) Skeen went on to serve 11 terms in Congress.

Occupy the ballot box: Another difference between the Skeen write-in effort and the Anderson/Pahls campaigns is that Skeen had access to the regular Republican funding sources. Anderson said both he and Pahls were inspired to run by the Occupy Wall Street movement and are emphasizing their independence from corporations and financial institutions in their campaigns.

He said on his website, “We will not have large corporate donors, but that is OK. Voters are interested in hearing about truth in politics. This is a time of crisis, voters are turning away from worn- out ideas and politicians.”

Of course, whether enough voters are willing to turn away from those politicians and take up a pencil for Anderson and Pahls remains to be seen.