Actions speak volumes

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Top GOPers inaugurate nasty U.S. senate primary

By Hal Rhodes

Things are obviously not peaches and cream between Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her Republican Lt. Gov. John Sanchez.
You’ll recall that following their election last November, the then governor-elect trundled into Santa Fe to begin the process of setting up her incoming administration.
Simultaneously, she cut the lieutenant governor-elect out of that process by dispatching him on a jaunt around the state to find out what business folks thought needed to be done to improve the state’s economy.
It smelled fishy at the time and it still does.
Think upon it. Here were two politicos, Martinez and Sanchez, who had just spent months campaigning in every nook and cranny of New Mexico, talking to anyone they could corral, yet the newly elected governor still didn’t know what the state’s businessmen and women were thinking?
A person would have to be denser than those waves of smoke that billowed out of Arizona and over New Mexico in recent days to buy that piece of nonsense.
Martinez wanted Sanchez out of town and out of the way.
Whereupon she and Heather Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman who became her transition chief, joined forces to fashion the outlines of a Martinez administration.
Now, just six months later, Wilson and Sanchez are running for their party’s 2012 nomination to fill the U.S. senate seat being vacated by longtime Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
It is shaping up as Wilson’s second nasty Republican primary in as many years.
In announcing his candidacy, the lieutenant governor came out with a jab at the former congresswoman by suggesting that “We don’t want to return people back to Washington, D.C., who got us into this mess in the first place.”
Wilson had jumped into the race almost before  Bingaman had finished revealing his decision to retire, and she slapped back at Sanchez by making it known that she looks forward to contrasting her “conservative record with his invented one.”
Eloquent campaign rhetoric, it’s not. Neither does it bespeak much love between the top two Republican senatorial candidates.
Which is where Martinez’s relations with the two senate hopefuls enter the equation.
It’s unlikely Martinez will slit her wrist if her next-in-line of succession ends up in the U.S. senate, but her reaction to news that he’s running was hardly warm and cordial.
She began by feigning neutrality in the Wilson-Sanchez contest, wishing the candidates “well” and assuring one and all that she doesn’t “intend to make an endorsement in the Republican primary at this time.”
“At this time?” With those three words, Sanchez surely knew that the sting he felt in the back was the tip of his own governor’s blade.
And if there was any doubt in the lieutenant governor’s mind where Martinez came down “in the Republican primary at this time,” she made it clear:  
“To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Gov. Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided in the state constitution.”
Then, just days later, unexpected and unannounced, Martinez showed up at a Wilson speaking engagement where she and the former congresswoman sat side-by-side playing coy.
Granted, Sanchez has pronounced upwardly mobile political ambitions.
After a single term in the state House of Representatives he ran for governor against a former congressman, U.N. Ambassador and U.S. Energy secretary … and lost decisively.
Now, after barely six months as lieutenant governor, he pursues a berth in the U.S. senate.
But the war of knives being played out by the principals in that pursuit foreshadows a donnybrook within New Mexico’s Grand Old Party.      
Hal Rhodes
© 2011 New Mexico News