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How Denish can overcome the Bill Richardson problem

Heath Haussamen

This is the first of two columns examining problems both gubernatorial candidates face. You can read the second column, about Republican Susana Martinez, here.

Albuquerque Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum was right on in a column published this weekend highlighting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish’s big problem: “What do you do when your record is linked to someone who’s turned toxic?”

Gov. Bill Richardson is toxic for Denish. The Republicans know it, and they’ve worked hard to tie Denish to Richardson by, among other things, repeatedly referring to his administration as the “Richardson/Denish administration.”

It’s a silly label – it’s not as if Richardson ever let Denish decide anything, and lieutenant governors have little power anyway. But I’ve heard a number of voters repeating the line being sold by the GOP: that Denish had to know about some of the shenanigans going on in the Richardson administration and, even if she didn’t partake in them, she did nothing to stop them.

Richardson has become the face of corruption in New Mexico – corruption that has plagued state government and the Democratic Party since two former state treasurers were indicted in 2005. The governor only narrowly avoided being indicted in his own pay-to-play scandal. His approval rating has nosedived into the ground. And there are other factors that have come together at the wrong time for Richardson’s legacy, and Denish’s candidacy.

The economy has tanked. Jobs have been lost. The rainy-day fund former Gov. Gary Johnson saved up has been spent during the Richardson years. New Mexico’s education system still stinks, despite the reforms of the Richardson years.

Though I suspect history will remember Richardson more kindly than voters currently do – if the spaceport is successful, the film industry stays in New Mexico and the system he set in place to encourage renewable energy development works – Richardson is currently Denish’s greatest weakness.

In this throw-the-bums-out climate, Denish looks to many voters like one of the bums. That’s why Republican Susana Martinez has the advantage in the governor’s race, at least at this point.


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What Denish must do

Denish can win the race. But I would suggest she needs to be blunt. She must tell voters she won’t do business the way Richardson has.

She has argued that she has stood up to the powers-that-be in Santa Fe, most notably with a TV ad highlighting her work to reform the scandal-plagued housing authority system. The ad states that Denish took on “Santa Fe insiders” and “wouldn’t back down.”

That’s not enough. Denish needs to be direct. The public needs to see her stand up to the ultimate insider and the way he’s done business as governor. Even Richardson has acknowledged that Denish has to separate herself from him.

Denish could do it with another TV ad that highlights her work to reform the housing authority system. Picture an ad in which Denish says:

“Pay to play. Gov. Bill Richardson has certainly had his share of problems, including scandals involving campaign contributors who got state contracts after giving money to his campaign.

“But when corruption was revealed in the state’s affordable housing system, I fought for reforms to ensure that housing was going to the people who need it most – even though some of the men involved in the scandal had given contributions to my campaign. When those men were indicted for fraud and money laundering, I donated their contributions to a group that works on neighborhood revitalization.”

Then a narrator says:

“Diane Denish. Doing the right thing, even when Santa Fe insiders don’t want her to.”

Such an ad would be bold. It might be risky because of who it would upset. But I’m betting it would resonate with voters.

People believe their government isn’t working. They want more than policy ideas packaged in fancy TV ads. They want honesty.

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8 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. I disagree with you Heath that Diane Denish should or could distance herself from Bill Richardson, even with fighting the corruption in affordable housing, or a new TV ad. She is tied to him as surely as if by an umbilical cord. If the people remember anything, it is that the Progressives have done more harm to this state than they have done good. The problem with the Progressives and far left wing is they want to spend our way out of debt, and that can’t be done.

    Denish is not only tied to Bill Richardson, but is tied to the party of spending and usurping the Constitution.

    Look who she backed when Richardson was campaigning for President, and who did she back after Richardson dropped out the Presidential race? She has preached a turnaround in some respects, but it is all show. For a few months now she has begun sounded more like a conservative than a liberal, but that does not make her one. She would sound like a bull moose if she thought it will get her elected.

    Susana Martinez is still the choice of quality in this race and will be in the end, win or lose. The people have had enough of being overtaxed and of change for the sake of change. They are now in line for real change and smaller government with less interference in our lives.

    Between Bill Richardson and Obama, they have awakened the populace to the damage they have wrought and the corruption they represent. That is why the hue and cry is “Remember in November.” To think that Diane Denish will be any different than Bill Richardson is foolish. She learned politics at his knee and would continue to run this state further into the ground by favoritism and rampant spending.

    The piece is well written Heath, but the call for changing her image is well past and of little value to the people of the state. Denish will not be the next Governor, and we can thank God for that.

  2. I agree with you Heath and this was well written and thought out. I want to give Denish one additional idea. A commercial where she looks into the camera and says. “Susanna I am not Bill Richardson, If you wanted to run against Bill Richardson you should have run four years ago”.

  3. Excellent Heath, very well said. Unless Ms. Denish does as you and many others have suggested about throwing Bill under the bus soon and often, she is doomed. The other problem she has is her running mate on the ticket. Colon is La Politicia all the way, and as you said: ” corruption that has plagued state government and the Democratic Party since two former state treasurers were indicted in 2005.” And who was chair much of that time, and the power in the party establishment, eh? I think Colon is so bad and dangerous, I would consider not voting for Ms. Denish since I would also have to vote for him. I’m sure I’m not the only one around the state that feels that way either.

  4. For once, I find myself in agreement with gofdisks when s/he writes;

    “… Democrats should start contrasting ideologies between the (largely imaginary, existing only in the minds of people like gofdisks) radical far right wing and the moderate, center left.”

    They don’t stand a chance contrasting ideologies with moderate center rights; the real majority of voters.

  5. Denish also wrote an article in DFNM awhile back stating how she would mitigate established habits of cronyism in state government. I thought that was a great idea to try to hire qualified personnel with modern technological skills while trying to pay off early retirement for the obsolete. She seems fully aware that these hard time require our most knowledgeable, hard working and skilled to work for state agencies.
    I think that Democrats should start contrasting ideologies between the radical far right wing and the moderate, center left.

  6. It occurs to me, Denish could walk her talk by announcing she will reopen the lucrative one bid state fair contract that Richardson wants to give to one of Denish’s larger contributors; http://www.abqjournal.com/upfront/10235916upfront07-10-10.htm

  7. It is fair to ask;
    did corrupt and incompetent politicians and public servants in state government fear the Lt Governor (who at all times had the capacity and capability of exposing their incompetence and corruption)? Did they live in constant fear that she was after them and would expose them if she could? Did corrupt and incompetent Democrats in state government perceive her as a viable threat to their continued betrayal of the public trust?

    If the answer was/is no, then it would be misleading for her to claim she stood in opposition to public corruption and incompetence, as a matter of course, based on one or two isolated instances where she actually did.

    She still has some explaining to do above and beyond pointing to one isolated instance by saying; “But when corruption was revealed in the state’s affordable housing system, I fought for reforms …”

  8. You shouldn’t give away such good ad ideas, Heath. You are commodifying the art of political consulting.

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