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New option should open up primaries

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By Carol A. Clark

Candidates gaining less than 20 percent of elected delegate votes at the preprimary convention may now submit additional nominating petitions to get on primary election ballots.Friday, Gov. Bill Richardson signed Senate Bill 1 – Primary Access Ballot for Certain Candidates. This bill repairs a law passed during the 2007 legislature limiting other avenues for candidates to get on the primary ballot.“Restoring the 20-percent rule allows grassroots candidates to at least participate in New Mexico politics, which is clearly a victory for New Mexico,” said Chairman Ron Dolin of the Los Alamos Republican Party. “But it’s only a partial victory. We now need courageous leaders from both parties to step forward and demand that our state’s preprimary process be abolished in favor of a true voter-driven democratic primary process.”While Dolin applauded state politicians and “more importantly the citizens of New Mexico,” he expressed disappointment in how primary candidates are determined.“What we witnessed this legislative session is that rarest instance in American politics when the will of the Republican and Democratic grassroots are so strongly aligned on an issue that they overcome the self-interests of each party’s powerful machines,” Dolin said. “The New Mexico Legislature restored the appearance of democracy to the state’s ‘flawed’ primary candidate selection process. However, the powerful machines from both parties still control how primary candidates are determined.”Using the local party as an example, Dolin said, “The Republican machine packed this year’s Los Alamos preprimary convention. In the end, rather than 5,000 Los Alamos Republicans democratically determining who our party’s preferred U.S. House and Senate candidates would be, 50 machine loyalists appointed a pre-determined slate of delegates to vote at our state’s nominating convention in a pre-determined way.”The same thing happens on the Democratic side, Dolin said, which explains why “both state nominating conventions are nothing more than beauty pageants that look good on camera but provide little insight into the true mood of the voters.”Chairman Stephen Fettig of the Democratic Party of Los Alamos County said this morning that Dolin is “exactly right” in his assessment of the party machine and its power.“I know the political machine in New Mexico is real strong and people are afraid to vote against it,” Fettig said. “I find that is not the case, however, with the Democratic Party in Los Alamos because they are generally more educated, more thoughtful and have a tendency to be more independent in their thinking. Because they’re relatively affluent, they have the time and ability to figure out who the candidates really are.”Fettig expressed approval with SB 1 and the option it offers candidates. The law prohibiting candidates from obtaining additional signatures was originally enacted last year, Fettig said, in an effort to give local parties more control.There was such a big effort by lawmakers to make sure the law was repaired because a real possibility existed in Congressional District 3 – with six candidates vying to replace Tom Udall who’s running for Senate – that none would receive 20 percent of the delegate vote, he said.“In my opinion, this action by the Legislature and the governor is good for our state,” Fettig said. “Specifically, the law is good for citizens because it helps candidates who are relatively popular with voters but not well known with party regulars. It also helps the parties be more relevant by giving voters a wider range of primary candidates.“In New Mexico, I feel we have a problem with too few candidates. This action is a small but significant move toward increasing the number of candidates put before the voters.”