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Chasing Susana

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By Hal Rhodes

On Tuesday last week in Silver City, state Sen. Howie Morales issued a press release making it known that, “I’m about to step on a stage at a rally in my hometown and announce that I’m running for Governor.”
It probably won’t appear on any of his campaign flyers, but Morales’ birth name is actually Henry Charles, and at age 40 he is the youngest of the candidates now seeking the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor.
The two other Democratic hopefuls are state Attorney General Gary King, 59, himself a former legislator, and longtime state Sen. Linda Lopez, 49, of Albuquerque’s South Valley.
A minor curiosity in this contest is that both Morales and King hold Ph.D.s, which, as best this reporter can determine, is a rare convergence that could make next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary New Mexico’s first ever doctoral face-off.
In any case, if recent experience is any guide, Gary King should have the advantage in that race.
Not only is he the scion of the legendary King family of Stanley, from whence emerged his father Bruce, the longest-serving governor in state history, Gary King has himself won two statewide races for attorney general. Nor should we forget that going back to the mid-1970s New Mexico’s office of attorney general became something of a stepping stone to higher offices.
Toney Anaya, attorney general from 1975 to 1978, was elected governor in 1982. Jeff Bingaman, attorney general from 1979 to 1982, began his long tenure as a United States senator in 1983. And Tom Udall, today a U.S. senator, entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 after eight years as attorney general.
On the other hand, for every New Mexico attorney general who went on to bigger and better things, there are former attorneys general who didn’t. Patsy Madrid, attorney general from 1999 to 2008, knows that story firsthand.
Each election is its own beast, and for New Mexico Democrats next year the prey is certain to be Susana Martinez who, a full year out from the election, finds herself unchallenged for re-nomination by her party and flush with a campaign kitty in excess of $3.3 million.
What’s more, Martinez is nothing if not a Teflon governor.
From that controversial Albuquerque Downs racino lease she signed at the outset of her term to the fake audits that materialized in her New Mexico Finance Authority on to and including her suppression of a Boston outfit’s audit of her Human Services Department, which culminated when she fired a dozen New Mexico behavioral health providers and hired a group of Arizonans to replace them, Susana Martinez has presided over an abundance of scandal during her three years.
Yet she remains high in the polls, rolling in campaign boodle, a favorite of the media.
A major daily newspaper made that clear recently when it chose its words carefully in editorially blasting Attorney General King for releasing only an edited version of the HSD audit “the state” is suppressing.
“The state?” “The state,” in this case, has a name — Susana Martinez — although the editorial tactfully avoided mention of that. It was perhaps a portent of the kind of media bias facing whomever the Democrats nominate to carry their standard against Martinez into the general election.
Nonetheless, it was a straight-talking Howie Morales who joined the fray last week.
“Three years ago we heard about the bold change this governor would bring to Santa Fe,” he reminded supporters at his announcement. “But what have we gotten? Higher minimum wage? Vetoed. Increased standards for nursing homes? Vetoed. Reading coaches in schools? Vetoed. Funding for women’s health care? Vetoed.”
True enough. But who’s got Teflon?