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Climbing the political ladder can be risky

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — It appears only two state senators will be trying to climb the political ladder this year. Senators have four-year terms, as do statewide elected officials.

Those offices – governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and land commissioner – all are elected in even-numbered years with no presidential election.

State Senate elections are held at the same time as presidential elections. That means state senators are in the middle of their four-year terms when statewide officials are elected.

So senators can take a shot at statewide office while not giving up their Senate seats unless they happen to win that higher office. Years ago, state Senate seats were staggered, so only half of them were able to keep their seats while running for higher office. But they wised up.

Every four years, several senators usually jump into a statewide or congressional race. The small number looking at higher office this year likely is due to the secretary of state, attorney general, auditor and treasurer all being eligible to run for a second term.

All four may end up unopposed in the Democratic primary and maybe even in the general election. At least a half-dozen lawyers were considering running for attorney general when it appeared current AG Gary King might decide on another gubernatorial bid. But when King announced he would seek a second term, all lost interest.

Santa Fe county Clerk Valerie Espinosa has mentioned a challenge of Secretary of State Mary Herrera. All has been quiet about any challenge to Auditor Hector Balderas or Treasurer James Lewis.

For the 2010 election, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez announced the formation of an exploratory committee for governor.  But nothing has come of it.

Sen. Tim Eichenberg announced his intent to enter the Democratic lieutenant governor race but then backed out. Only two state senators, both from Albuquerque, have remained interested in higher office. Both got into the Democratic lieutenant governor race early.

Sen. Linda Lopez is chair of the Senate Rules Committee. She promised that her committee would write an omnibus ethics reform bill. They worked on it for 60 days last year but nothing came of it.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino is positioning himself as the candidate of progressive Democrats. With a large field in the Democratic lieutenant governor race that could give him an edge but neither he nor Lopez has been able to raise much money.

Ortiz y Pino also is trying to position himself as the only Democratic lieutenant governor candidate who isn’t interested in the office serving as a steppingstone to even higher office. At 67, he says he would want to go no farther so he could concentrate on being the best lieutenant governor possible.

Two state representatives also are seeking higher office. That requires much more commitment because it just about completely prevents representatives from keeping their seats in the House.

If a representative does not succeed in getting on the primary election ballot by winning 20 percent of the March nominating convention vote, there are two choices. Either get additional nominating petition signatures for the office being sought or get petition signatures for the House seat the representative currently holds.

Switching back to run for a House seat isn’t always easy. Time is short and other candidates may have entered the race. The state House has lost a number of good members over the years because of unsuccessful attempts to climb the political ladder.

Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones of Albuquerque is in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. She will be remembered as the lawmaker who forced audio and video feeds from an unwilling New Mexico Legislature. The House will miss her expertise in technology.

Rep. Jose Campos of Santa Rosa is in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor. As the only candidate from outside the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area, he is expected to draw heavily from the rest of the state.

E-mail Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.