Lieutenant governor primaries draw crowded field

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE — There’s a wealth of public service and political experience among the five Democrats and three Republicans who want to become New Mexico’s lieutenant governor.

In the GOP race, all three candidates have served in the Legislature: Brian Moore, Kent Cravens and John Sanchez.

The Democratic lineup includes a former state party chairman, Brian Colon; a retired governmental agency administrator, Lawrence Rael; and three legislators — Jose Campos, Gerald Ortiz y Pino and Linda Lopez.

Because there’s no incumbent seeking re-election this year, it’s a crowded primary election field that features the most lieutenant governor candidates on the ballot since 1990, when six Democrats and two Republicans sought the office.

The office is open because Lt.  Gov. Diane Denish is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Denish was elected twice on the Democratic ticket with Gov. Bill Richardson, who is term-limited and can’t seek re-election.

Winners of the June 1 primary election for lieutenant governor become the running mates of their party’s gubernatorial nominee.

“These statewide, low-profile races are typically determined by name recognition. The average voter will know very little beyond the name and perhaps some form of biography of these people,” said Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff. “It’s just not an issues campaign. It’s more of a popularity contest based on name recognition and visibility.”

The candidates have been scrambling to raise their profiles with television and radio advertising and mailings.

Lieutenant governors are paid $85,000 a year. However, the powers of the office are limited.

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate if it’s in session. When the governor leaves New Mexico, the lieutenant governor temporarily is in charge of the state.

If a governor dies or resigns, the lieutenant governor moves up. That’s happened three times since New Mexico became a state in 1912.

Beyond that, the duties of the job depend mostly on what assignments are given by the governor. The unwritten rule for a lieutenant governor is fairly simple: don’t try to overshadow or make political trouble for the governor.

Historically, the lieutenant governor’s job hasn’t proven to be a good launching pad for higher elective office. No lieutenant governor — unless Denish does it this year — has been elected governor.

One lieutenant governor, Democrat Joseph Montoya, won election to Congress in the 1950s and went on to serve in the U.S. House and Senate for nearly two decades.