Monday, November 19, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Roundhouse No Breeding Grounds for Governors

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 

Now that we’re done with the 2012 election, it’s high time we move on to more important matters — like the 2014 election.

Seriously, people out there in Politicsville are already starting to chatter about what Democrat will be chosen to take on Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Attorney General Gary King said a few months ago that he is running. Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman won’t confirm or deny that he’ll run. A few other names have been bandied about here and there. And such chatter is likely to rise in coming months.

Gov. King: Elected before the
invention of color photography
But I’m going to make a prediction. Whoever the Dems put up against Martinez will not come from the state Legislature.

This isn’t a knock on the fine men and women who serve in our citizen Legislature. There are many excellent lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and many of whom, I’m sure, would make competent governors. It’s just that it’s tough to make that jump from the House or Senate to the Fourth Floor.

History will bear me out — at least the history of the last few decades. Bruce King was the last governor who had spent any time in the state Legislature. (He was speaker of the House back in the ’60s.) But when he was elected governor in 1990, King was best known for being a former governor, not a lawmaker. That also was true for his second term as governor, to which he was elected in 1978. (His first term as governor came in 1970.)

Gov. Apodaca:
(A similar dynamic probably will apply to King’s son, Gary King in 2014. He was in the House for many years, but voters almost certainly will judge him on his performance as attorney general, not for votes he cast in the Legislature in the ’80s and ’90s.)

With the exception of King,  other governors going back to the '80s — Martinez, Bill Richardson, Gary Johnson, Garrey Carruthers and Toney Anaya — were never legislators. The last governor elected directly from the Legislature was Jerry Apodaca, a former senator from Las Cruces, in 1974.

So why isn’t the Legislature a logical springboard to the governor’s mansion anymore? Maybe it’s because most voters are fairly satisfied with their own representatives and senators, but many tend to think of the rest of the state Legislature as a bunch of clowns or worse. Kind of like the way we feel about our own congressional representatives.

Maybe someone in the Legislature will come along, wow the electorate and prove me wrong. If you have any names, let me know.

“I’d rather not answer that”: Last week I had some questions about Patriot Majority New Mexico, a Democrat-favoring political action committee that spent at least $1.3 million in the general election. I called Amanda Cooper, who helped run Richardson’s presidential and second gubernatorial campaign.

Why Cooper? She’s not listed anywhere as a PAC official. And there’s no salary or any other expenditure to her listed in the committee’s campaign finance reports. But last month, when House Speaker Ben Luján gave Patriot Majority a check for more than $83,000 from his Speaker’s Fund, he listed the PAC’s address as Cooper’s home in Corrales.

Cooper said that listing her address on Lujan’s report was “a mistake.” I then asked Cooper point blank, “What is your relationship to Patriot Majority?”

First silence. Then a nervous laugh. Then more silence. I asked again. She said, “I’d rather not answer that.”

Whaaa …???

I’m grateful that Cooper did get me in touch with Craig Varoga, who answered my questions about the story I was writing that day. He’s a Washington, D.C., consultant who is registered as the president and treasurer of the group. He also worked on Richardson’s presidential campaign.

Another major Richardson figure, former chief of staff and campaign manager David Contarino, showed up in an NPR profile of Patriot Majority. But that report was from 2008. His name doesn’t appear on any of the Patriot Majority documents filed with the state this year.

Varoga didn’t respond to an email requesting he clear up whether Cooper or Contarino were involved with Patriot Majority New Mexico.

Such PACs pumping millions into state campaigns have prompted much suspicion and misgivings. True, Patriot Majority disclosed its donors. But that doesn’t do much to calm those suspicions when they give answers such as, “I’d rather not answer that.”