Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why the Cervantes Challenge Fizzled

Rep. Joe Cervantes said that only two words explain the reason he couldn't get enough votes to topple House Speaker Ben Lujan: "Tea Party."

Lujan was re-elected with 36 votes. House Republican Leader Tom Taylor of Farmington, nominated symbolically as is the usual practice for the minority party, got 33 votes. Rep. Andy Nunez, D-Hatch, a Cervantes supporter, voted "present."

Many last week were predicting that Cervantes would have enough votes from Republicans and southern Democrats to win the speakership. But most of that talked stopped yesterday when news broke that several tea party organizations were urging Republicans not to back a coalition effort for Cervantes.

Taylor, talking to reporters after the vote, said he didn't believe the tea party opposition was the main reason for the failure of the coalition was that more Republicans were thinking of the political advantage of keeping Lujan in the position rather than the "policy' advantages.

"He's the status quo," Taylor said of Lujan. "There was a risk with Cervantes that we could have passed some great legislation and there'd be a lovefest in the Legislature. ... It would be harder to run a negative campaign."

If it wasn't obvious from his statement, Taylor acknowledged that he had been leaning toward supporting Cervantes.

New House Republican Don Bratton agreed with Taylor's analysis. "I look at things from a policy standpoint," he said.

Jerry Clark of the Las Cruces Sons of Liberty, a group that split off from the Las Cruces Tea Party last year, said his group agreed with the tea party opposition to Cervantes.

"We're from Las Cruces and we know Jose as a progressive," he said of Cervantes. "We thought Republicans should stand their ground. Even if Jose is an improvement over Ben Lujan, he's not really an improvement." He noted that Cervantes has voted for the "motor voter" law which makes it easier to get driver's licenses and against requiring picture identification for voting.

"We want Republicans to draw a line in the sand," he said.

Lujan, in his speech after the winning re-election, didn't mention the Cervantes challenge.