Martinez looks to unseat legislative foes
By targeting Republican Sen. Clinton Harden, Gov. Susana Martinez showed that she’ll go after any state legislator she views as standing in the way of her reform proposals, regardless of party affiliation.
Not that she’ll publicly claim victory or he’ll give it to her, but Harden’s announcement came days after the Clovis Republican learned that he would face a tough primary challenge that had the fingerprints of Martinez and her political adviser, Jay McCleskey, all over it.
Martinez, also a Republican, has repeatedly threatened to help voters decide what to do about legislative incumbents who get in the way of the reforms she proposes. As of its last report in October, her political action committee had about $300,000 on hand to do just that.
The apparent targeting of Harden shows that Martinez, fresh off another round of high-profile legislative losses on her top reform proposals, intends to remake the Legislature in this year’s election. That means going after anyone, Democrat or Republican, who has stood in her way.
In addition to targeting Harden, Martinez has also set her sights on Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. A mailer from SusanaPAC going out this week contrasts his vote against her push to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses with the vote by Rep. David Doyle, R-Albuquerque, in favor of her proposal, which has thus far been unsuccessful.
Doyle, a close ally of the governor, confirmed Monday that he will challenge Sapien this year and said a formal announcement should come later this week.
Other potential targets include Democratic Sens. Steve Fischmann of Las Cruces, Tim Eichenberg of Albuquerque and, in spite of what Martinez has said, perhaps even Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen.
Sen. Vernon Asbill, R-Carlsbad, announced his retirement Monday. Though he and Martinez were sometimes at odds, there had been no public signs that she planned to try to take him out this year – at least yet.
McCleskey declined to mention specific targets in a statement to NMPolitics.net but acknowledged the governor’s efforts to remake the Legislature.
“Just as trial lawyers, labor unions, and Senator Sanchez’s PAC will spend big to defend the status quo, Governor Martinez’s PAC will help level the playing field to assist reform-minded candidates in their elections,” he said.
Spears pledges to ‘stand up to the status quo’
During the final days of the session last week – while Harden was opposing a Martinez-sought floor amendment proponents characterized as taking money from school district lobbyists and public information officers to fund reading reforms – Angie Spears, the 37-year-old director of a counseling agency, was announcing her candidacy to take on Harden in the June primary.
“I’m running for the state Senate because we need leaders with the courage to stand up to the status quo and fight for real reforms. New Mexicans are fed up with politicians who don’t represent their views,” Spears said in a news release sent Feb. 14. The release mentioned her pledge “to fight to repeal the law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants” and her support for merit-based teacher pay and ending so-called social promotion.”
That was an intentional contrast that focused on Martinez’s top priorities that have stalled in the Legislature. Harden voted for the 2003 law that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses – the law Martinez has now tried three times without success to get lawmakers to repeal.
Though much of the back-and-forth has taken place behind the scenes, Harden has also not been the biggest supporter of some of Martinez’s education reform proposals.
Days later, Harden announced that he wouldn’t seek another term. Even though he had a 2012 re-election website up, Harden seemed to indicate he had decided to retire before Spears announced her candidacy. The Clovis News Journal quoted him as saying it was “in the best interest of all concerned that I have moved up my announcement that I will retire at the end of my term.”
Martinez praised Harden in a statement to NMPolitics.net, then moved quickly to endorse Spears and try to keep others from entering the race.
“Angie Spears is running for the State Senate (District 7) on a platform to shake-up the status quo and fight for real reforms. Angie understands the importance of repealing the law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and enacting true education reforms, including a teacher evaluation system that puts an emphasis on student progress,” Martinez stated Monday on her Facebook page.
Martinez needed no time to get to know Spears before endorsing her because the governor was already supporting the political newcomer – even if it was only behind-the-scenes until Harden quit the race.
Sapien hit in mailer, robocalls
Martinez is being less covert about her attempt to unseat Sapien.
“Thanks to John Sapien, New Mexico is one of only two states in the entire country that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” states the mailer that is going out this week in his district. “… When New Mexicans tried to stop this by repealing the law, John Sapien blocked them and voted to continue giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”
Instead of agreeing to the governor’s proposed repeal of that law, Sapien and many other Democrats have supported amendments they say would help combat fraud while ensuring that more people who drive on New Mexico’s roads are licensed.
Doyle, on the other hand, supported Martinez’s push for a repeal. The mailer states that he “understands how wrongheaded and dangerous it is to attract criminals and human traffickers to our state” and “will keep fighting to repeal it in the State Senate.”
This year’s redistricting shifted the voting performance of Sapien’s district three percentage points to the left, to 50.5 percent Democratic and 49.5 percent Republican. Before the Obama wave of 2008, the district had long been Republican-leaning, like those currently represented by Fischmann and Eichenberg. It’s no secret that the GOP wants all three back.
Sapien told NMPolitics.net he isn’t surprised that Martinez is targeting him. The state GOP sent out two robocalls in his district during the legislative session. He complained that, “as we’re trying to focus on meeting to form public policy, the governor and Republican Party are focused on the election.”
Though Martinez frequently cites a poll that found the majority of New Mexicans want to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, some Democrats have recently been touting one that says New Mexicans want compromise that strengthens the law. Sapien said he’s prepared to defend his vote against attacks from Martinez.
He said voters are more concerned about the economy and jobs, and he’s proud of his record on that issue.
“We’re going to run like we did in ‘08 when we were not the incumbent,” Sapien said. “We’re going to run hard and we’re not going to give up the seat.”
Sanchez says he’s confident
At a post-session news conference on Thursday, Martinez “needed little nudging by reporters” to talk about the election, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
“If voters appreciate that (some lawmakers) abandoned our children in education reform, they’ll continue to vote them in,” the newspaper quoted Martinez as saying. “If they don’t appreciate that, putting pork before their kids, then they’ll put someone else in there.”
Like Sapien, Majority Leader Sanchez said recently that he’s confident Democrats will be able to defend their votes on the driver’s license issue and others.
“We’ll go to the public and explain our position philosophically. We have a pretty intelligent base of voters in New Mexico and once we explain the differences, I feel pretty confident that they’ll understand it,” The Associated Press quoted Sanchez as saying.
It’s no secret that Martinez views Sanchez as one of her biggest obstacles. Yet, according to The New Mexican, “Asked directly by a reporter whether she’d target Sanchez during the election, Martinez said no.”
Sanchez was quoted by the newspaper as saying he’s ready if Martinez does. But he could have a tough time. As I wrote in the January newsletter that goes to donors to the site:
“Under the new district boundaries, the Belen-area District 29 that Sanchez represents has a performance rating that’s 53.1 percent Democratic and 46.9 percent Republican. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Though there are lots more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district (51.8 percent to 29.4 percent), the district’s voters are more than willing to elect a Republican – when they view that Republican as worthy of support.
“Martinez won Sanchez’s district in 2010 with 57.5 percent of the vote. Former President George W. Bush won it in 2004 with 53.3 percent of the vote.
“So if a credible Republican runs against Sanchez, and Martinez backs him or her with serious cash, Sanchez could be in trouble.”
First Martinez has to find a credible candidate to take on Sanchez. She hasn’t yet, and she may not. But, regardless of what she says publicly, don’t believe the governor isn’t looking.
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