Picking sides is highly unusual

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE -" The Republican gubernatorial contest is getting really serious. It’s so serious, in fact, that the state GOP chairman has jumped into the fray.

Chairman Harvey Yates of Artesia created a three person committee, including himself, to review the negative ads flying back and forth between frontrunners Allen Weh and Susana Martinez.

The committee concluded that Martinez’s negative ads were based on fact but that Weh’s weren’t. Then they made their findings public. Had the negativity really gotten to the point that required party intervention? It didn’t seem like it to this viewer.

The ads from the last presidential election were far worse. The New Mexico ads seemed fairly low octane and about equally misleading. But they were enough to capture the attention of the state GOP chairman and produce a scolding of Weh.

It is a highly unusual situation when a party chairman sides with a particular candidate in a party primary election. From everything I have read about the situation, it has never happened before but that is not quite true.

Back in the ’90s, state GOP chairman John Dendahl scolded Greg Sowards of Las Cruces for challenging U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen in the Republican primary.

Democrats often challenge members of their own party. But with Republicans it doesn’t happen often. As I recall, Sowards was treated  roughly by the party for doing the unthinkable.

In both major parties, county party officials are not supposed to take sides in primary elections either.

But I remember traveling through Española and Las Vegas during primary election campaigns and seeing signs listing a slate of the Democratic county chairman’s preferred candidates and down the road a sign listing the candidates preferred by the wannabe Democratic county chairman.

Why would a state party chairman want to put himself in a position in which he would appear to be taking sides?

Weh has been accused of being a divisive state party chairman. He may have been but he was elected to that office in a time of great division within the party.

What can be said now about the divisiveness of Yates as a state party chairman? Some already have noticed that Yates is from Artesia, which also happens to be the source of some very large oil and gas donations to Martinez.

And what of the other three candidates in the GOP gubernatorial race? They can’t be too happy about the state party chairman apparently taking a side.

One of those candidates, Doug Turner, told blogger Joe Monahan “If Susana Martinez can go after drug lords and child molesters, she can handle her own campaign.” He continued that the state party has given him no help.

Martinez produced a news report from 2007, when President George W. Bush was unsuccessfully pushing an immigration reform bill  through Congress and Weh was the state GOP chairman.

The report contained some positive words from Weh about the bill. One of those words was “amnesty,” which is now a four-letter word in conservative parlance.

Weh insists he is not for amnesty and never has been. He said he was for a guest worker program, which our economy needed. Critics contend that is amnesty.

So how did “Weh and “amnesty” get in print in the same sentence? Retired immigration officer Mario Salinas of Carlsbad said we in the media often get confused about amnesty. It may be a matter of semantics.

Or maybe Weh was trying to be a good trooper as a state party chairman supporting his president. And maybe Weh didn’t anticipate running for governor in three years and having to defend a process as emotionally charged as amnesty has become.

Whatever happened, Weh got dinged by the three top officials in the state GOP and his chief opponent was exonerated.

The big question now is what this will do to Weh’s campaign and what it will do to the state Republican Party in the future.

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