Sunday, August 5, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: When NM Politics Had Sparkle

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

After the bizarre situation earlier this year, in which 10 legislative candidates from both major parties — including veteran lawmakers like Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings — had their nominating petitions challenged in court mostly over technical violations, at least one state senator is talking about doing away with the petition system altogether and going back to the old system of candidates having to pay a filing fee.

That’s what Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, recently told reporter Milan Simonich of the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership. Morales told Simonich that he will introduce a bill next year to do away with the nominating petitions, a system he called “flawed and outdated.”

Sparkle with sparkler
This brings back memories of 1972, the first election in which I was eligible to vote. That year a federal court, backed up by an opinion by the state attorney general, struck down a New Mexico law that required congressional and statewide candidates to put up a $2,500 filing fee. This angered former New Mexico Attorney General Fred Standley. This meant that any ham-and-egger off the street could run for office!

So Standley and a group of friends, dubbed by then-Gov. David Cargo as “The Bull Ring Gang,” came up with a colorful idea to draw attention to the situation. They convinced a 28-year-old Bull Ring cocktail waitress and aspiring actress named Sparkle Plenty to file for Congress. (At that time Santa Fe was part of the 1st Congressional District, represented by Republican Manuel Lujan Jr.)

Miss Plenty was born Cheryl Lana Boone, but the year before, she’d legally changed her name to “Sparkle Plenty.” The name change itself was on the front page of The New Mexican. She was one of nine candidates to file for the Democratic congressional primary. If Standley and his pals thought she might get some attention, they were right. Besides her work at the political watering hole, her résumé listed her experience as law student, legal secretary, airline stewardess and Playboy bunny.

Some of her coverage was blatantly sexist. One report in this very paper described her as “leggy,” while many stories about Plenty dutifully referred to her campaigning in a leather mini-skirt.

But her mentor, Standley, soon lost interest in the Sparkle bandwagon. Not long after filing day, the state Supreme Court, responding to a legal challenge by Standley, reinstated the filing-fee requirement. “Veteran political observers feel that the Standley crowd should be sued for breach of promise” for pulling the rug out from under Plenty, said New Mexican columnist Will Hoffman.

“Our purpose was accomplished,” Standley told Hoffman. “We’ve demonstrated that this is the most ludicrous situation we ever got into. She accomplished what she wanted — publicity.” (Indeed, her campaign got the attention of national publications, including The New York Times.)

The filing fee requirement immediately thinned the herd running for Congress. Four of the nine candidates dropped out. But not Sparkle Plenty. Even though the Bull Ring Gang wasn’t taking her candidacy seriously, Sparkle herself was. “I’m not in this for the publicity,” she said. “Even if I should get a movie contract, I would use the money to start ecological foundations.”
The first Sparkle Plenty was from
the Dick Tracy comic strip

She came up with the filing fee, thanks to a contributor, Larry Hunt of Cerrillos, described by this paper as “a self-styled multi-thousandaire and a former sea captain.” She assembled what the paper called “a campaign staff of earnest but bumbling amateurs.” And she won the endorsements of a couple of respectable environmental groups.

But she lost the primary, coming in fifth out of five in the contest won by Santa Fe lawyer Gene Gallegos, whom nobody described as “leggy,” and who went on to be defeated by Lujan in the general election.

Before the end of the ’70s, the filing fee again was declared unconstitutional, and it was replaced by the current screwy petition system. Who knows. Perhaps Morales’ bill will spark another Sparkle in some future election.

Sparkle Plenty is the subject of an upcoming Centennial Journeys radio spot produced by The New Mexico Centennial Steering Committee. Keep an eye out for it HERE..