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During his 1848 run for president, Gen. Zachary Taylor was pilloried as “a military autocrat,” “semi-illiterate,” “a cruel slavemaster,” “greedy” and given to cussing out underlings.
Old Zach subsequently groused that he had been besmirched by “the vilest slanders of the most unprincipled demagogues this or any other nation was ever cursed with…”
Taylor died of gastroenteritis less than two years into his presidency, but if he were around today, he might acknowledge that some of the “vilest slander” and “demagogues” were yet to come in the American experience.
It’s a shame, at least for those of us who cling to the quaint notion that campaigns represent opportunities for candidates to honor the voters with thoughtful presentations of their competing views on the serious problems they will face when the election is over.
Yet here we are this year, in New Mexico and elsewhere, with another crop of “unprincipled demagogues” unleashing “vile slanders” throughout the land with an abandon that has become the trademark of candidates with too much money and too many high-priced media consultants gifted at the art of maligning opponents with innuendos, half-truths, outright lies and “slanders.”
We knew at the outset of this year’s gubernatorial campaign that Republicans would do everything in their power to have us believe that Diane Denish is simply Bill Richardson in a skirt, the two of them as one in bringing us misery and grief.
If Richardson’s poll numbers weren’t down around his ankles, they might have thought twice before embracing such a strategy.
But they are and so Denish becomes the vessel that must bear all of Richardson’s sins, real or manufactured.
And make no mistake of it: Manufacturing a new Diane Denish is precisely what her Republican opponent, Susana Martinez, and sundry Republican operatives are attempting to do.
Denish has been around New Mexico business and political circles long enough for anyone who has paid the slightest attention to know that she came to the office of lieutenant governor on her own steam.
We may never know whether she is the running mate Richardson would have picked had it been within his power to make the choice.
We do know that she and Richardson have had their share of dust-ups and disagreements, none more so than Denish’s consistently tougher stance on ethics legislation that came before the Legislature during their tenure at the Roundhouse.
Simply put, New Mexico has had a Richardson administration for going on eight years.
He may have let things get out of hand, but it was Bill Richardson’s hands out of which things got, not Denish’s.
Nor should we let anyone con us into thinking otherwise.
There is not, never has been, nor will there ever be a Richardson-Denish administration.
This is a governor whose ambitions were enormous and whose modus operandi admitted no co-governor on the 4th floor at the Roundhouse.
If ever there was a time when two candidates for governor might best serve themselves and the people of their state by soberly debating the risks of overreaching in the state’s highest office, the dangers of aspiring to too much control, only to discover that subordinates can prove unworthy by engaging in questionable—perhaps unlawful—practices while ostensibly serving a governor, it must surely be now.
Voters are entitled to know how their gubernatorial candidates would govern differently than the incumbent they hope to follow, thereby avoiding the widespread perception of misconduct and even corruption that bedevils Gov. Richardson today.
Demagoguery is ill-suited to questions of this import. It simply leaves voters slathered with mud when they enter their polling places.