Spears-Woods race colored by controversy
The governor has offended some with her backing of Angie Spears in the GOP Senate District 7 primary race. Meanwhile, Pat Woods’ statements about campaign contributions and lobbying raise ethical questions about his prior activities in Santa Fe.
The GOP primary race to replace Clinton Harden in the N.M. Senate has been colored by controversy that includes anger over the governor’s backing of Angie Spears and Pat Woods’ shifting explanation for why he gave campaign contributions to Democrats.
The governor has offended some Republicans, and her involvement in the race led a third candidate to drop out and endorse Woods. Meanwhile, Woods’ statements about campaign contributions and lobbying raise ethical questions about his prior activities in Santa Fe.
The controversy started when Harden, R-Clovis, announced he wouldn’t seek re-election this year – and, as NMPolitics.net reported, “gave Gov. Susana Martinez her first victory of the 2012 election.” More from that article:
“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.”
Spears jumped into the Senate District 7 race against Harden with several high-profile endorsements already lined up. She pledged support for the governor’s stances on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and education reform. At the time, Harden had a campaign website up and appeared headed toward seeking re-election, but the quickly decided against it.
He had clashed with Martinez before. As McCleskey recently pointed out to the Clovis News Journal, Harden “was one of two Republican senators who voted for the 2003 law that gave driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, Harden aggressively supported a $128 million tax increase that Gov. Martinez strongly opposed and vetoed, and Harden was the only Republican senator who sided with labor unions and against the governor on education reform.”
‘Not interested in our next senator being bought and paid for’
After Harden announced he would not seek another term, Martinez almost immediately endorsed Spears. McCleskey says Martinez didn’t recruit Spears, but Harden told NMPolitics.net he believes Martinez was privately backing her even before he decided against running.
Spears told NMPolitics.net she has wanted to run for Senate ever since working as a policy analyst during the Johnson administration. Before entering this year’s race, she said she heard Harden openly discuss “his ambivalence about serving another term, his lack of enthusiasm for the repeal of the driver’s license law and his stance against education reform,” so she decided to run.
Any claim that she was recruited by Martinez is false, Spears said.
But opinions like Harden’s persist. Last month, Mark Myers quit the GOP primary race and endorsed Woods, making it a two-person contest between Woods and Spears. Myers and Woods complained about Martinez’s involvement in the race.
“Pat and I have the same ideals; we appeal to the same people,” Myers was quoted by the Clovis News Journal as saying. “I’m not interested in our next senator being bought and paid for from the Rio Grande Valley.”
Woods’ explanation for contributions shifts
Martinez hit back in a statement from McCleskey to the Clovis newspaper pointing out that Woods has made political contributions to “liberal Democrats (that) are being used to attack Republican legislative candidates and the governor’s agenda in New Mexico.”
Woods decided to tackle that issue head-on, posting a page on his website that lists his political contributions since 2002 and breaking down the percentages given to Republicans (76 percent) and Democrats (24 percent).
Here’s what Wood’s website currently states about a $250 donation he gave to former Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat, in 2002 and a $100 donation he gave in 2009 to state Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, who chairs the House Business and Industry committee:
“Contributions made as appreciation for support of beef check off and agricultural issues. I have never been a paid lobbyist. My occupation is farmer and rancher.”
That may be what Woods’ website says now, but it’s not how the site explained the donations until NMPolitics.net started asking questions. As this image taken by NMPolitics.net shows, early last week, the website explained the contributions this way:
“Contributions for specific lobbying efforts for the beef check off and the agricultural exemption to worker’s compensation.”
Then, as this image shows, later last week Woods added this statement:
“I have never been a paid lobbyist. I have only gone to Santa Fe as a private citizen. My occupation is farmer and rancher.”
Woods: ‘What you’re inferring is pretty silly’
So was Woods a lobbyist or not? And did he give the campaign contributions to try to influence official decisions – as his website originally seemed to state – or in appreciation of actions Madrid and Rodella had already taken – as his website now states?
The questions are important because giving contributions to affect official decisions is considered unethical – at best. In fact, when Madrid said during a debate in 2006 that campaign contributions buy people access to public officials, she faced harsh criticism from me and others.
Woods told NMPolitics.net any contributions he’s made “were because those individuals stood with me on agricultural issues.” He explained his “specific lobbying efforts” statement by saying that, “while I may not support every position held by a representative, I appreciated their position on important agricultural issues.”
He didn’t elaborate on what those issues were, though NMPolitics.net asked. NMPolitics.net asked a follow-up question: Did the contributions come in response to a position by the official that you appreciated, or were the contributions an attempt to get the official to take the position you wanted?
Here’s how Woods responded:
“Frankly, what you’re inferring is pretty silly. Do you really believe that $100 or $250 could possibly influence a legislator’s vote? My contributions to those elected representatives were made in appreciation of the positions they took on important agriculture issues.”
Then the language about “specific lobbying efforts” was replaced on Woods’ campaign website with the “appreciation” language.
Spears calls donations ‘play-to-play politics at work’
After hearing Woods, a farmer, talk about the contributions during a recent GOP breakfast, Spears told NMPolitics.net she heard Woods describe “pay-to-play politics at work.” She said he described fighting against a farm-related bill in explaining donations to Rodella and Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque.
Spears suggested Woods was referring to 2009 legislation that would have provided additional worker’s compensation coverage for farm and ranch workers – a bill that died in the committee Rodella chairs. That would match with the initial statement Woods posted on his website.
Spears also said Woods claimed to have given donations to Rodella and Keller in the hopes that the bill would not resurface in 2010 – and that he said he was pleased when it did not.
“I was surprised to hear Mr. Woods’ explanation that he made these contributions because these politicians helped him with a bill that benefited his business,” Spears said. “I believe candidates should be supported by those who believe in their philosophy, principles and agenda, not because they took an official act that benefited the donor financially.”
Woods was a registered lobbyist
In addition, though Woods said on an earlier version of his web page that he has “only gone to Santa Fe as a private citizen,” the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that Woods was a registered lobbyist from 1997-2003, and that he represented the Farmer’s Electric Cooperative of New Mexico.
Woods told NMPolitics.net he may have been registered as a lobbyist for the coop or the N.M. Farm and Livestock Bureau, but he was never paid to lobby. He had to register as a lobbyist because he was a board member for both organizations, he said.
He stopped registering as a lobbyist in 2003 when the secretary of state advised both groups that their board members weren’t in Santa Fe during sessions long enough to be required to register.
“Other than gas mileage reimbursement for meetings and the health insurance that the Farmer’s Electric Coop makes available to all its board members, I have not received a dime,” he said.
Then Woods removed the statement from his website claiming he had “only gone to Santa Fe as a private citizen.”
Supporting the governor
In spite of his frustration with the governor’s backing of his opponent, Woods says he, like Spears, is supportive of the agenda of Martinez, who remains popular in New Mexico and especially among GOP voters. The most recent poll had Martinez’s approval at 54 percent overall and 87 percent among Republicans.
“I fully support Governor Martinez’s legislative agenda,” Woods said. “I believe it’s time to stop illegal immigrants from getting New Mexico driver’s licenses, reform education and cut spending to stay on budget.”
There’s no Democrat running, so unless an independent or minor-party candidate joins the race, the winner of the GOP primary will be uncontested in November. That means Martinez is likely to pick up an ally on some of her most high-profile initiatives.
Though he has been at odds with Martinez at times, even Harden told NMPolitics.net he’s supportive of the governor and wants her succeed. His issue, he said, is with McCleskey, and he said there’s a “loosely knitted” group in the GOP that opposes McCleskey’s involvement in the Martinez administration.
“My sense is there’s an anti-Jay McCleskey group more than an anti-Susana Martinez,” he said.
Harden said he believes McCleskey orchestrated Spears’ candidacy.
“I feel that way. I think the strategic shots are being called by Jay McCleskey, period,” he said. “That’s my opinion. I would really have to work hard to prove it. … But it’s darn sure my opinion, and it’s shared by a lot of people.”
It’s not the first time Martinez or McCleskey has faced that allegation. Both have told NMPolitics.net it isn’t true.
“When I make a decision, it’s because I’m informed,” Martinez has said. “I try to get both sides of the issues. I don’t surround myself with ‘yes’ people. I’m very independent. I’m not a figurehead.”
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