Politicians eye higher office

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New Mexico’s top official always want to move up

By Jay Miller

For more than eight years, the executive has been running for something else.
Those were the approximate words of Republican state Senator Clint Harden as he fretted over the entry of Lt. Gov. John Sanchez into the GOP race for the U.S. Senate.
Harden thinks Sanchez should resign because of his important role in the redistricting process. The lieutenant governor presides over the senate and breaks tie votes.
Harden says Sanchez will be distracted from his duties. If Sanchez were to resign, the state would be without a lieutenant governor. The duty of presiding over the senate would be assumed by the president pro tempore, who is Sen. Tim Jennings, a Democrat.
Jennings was elected to his position by a coalition of Republicans and a few Democrats. But since the election of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, Jennings is seen by some as moving closer to the Democratic caucus positions.
But Harden is right on one count. Our last two governors and lieutenant governors have spent a considerable amount of time running for something else.
Gov. Martinez, as the first Hispanic woman in the nation to be elected governor, is automatically a rising star in the Republican Party. And she isn’t shying away from opportunities to appear at GOP functions in other states.
Martinez is one of several young minorities who might be very helpful to the GOP as a 2012 vice-presidential candidate.
Among the legion of newly elected Republican governors, she has declined to follow the playbook and go as far in the anti-minority and anti-labor direction as some other new governors.
Likewise the GOP would love to add Sanchez as another minority in the U.S. senate. His main opponent, however, Heather Wilson, would broaden the Republican tent by adding another woman to the senate.
The amount of help either will quietly receive from national sources is yet to be seen.
Susana Martinez, as a female minority, received significant national help in the primary and general elections.
Political observers were surprised to see Martinez react immediately to Sanchez’s entry to the senate race considering she has made little secret of her desire to be on the national stage also.
Of course, she can make her interest in the vice presidency known quietly but plenty is going on behind the scenes.
And as soon as a favorite appears, the action becomes frantic with deep background screenings.
I was a witness to a small part of that action when a screener called in 2004 to ask if I thought Gov. Bill Richardson was too interested in Billy the Kid and UFOs. My answer of “No more than I am” probably sank his chances for the nomination.
As New Mexicans are well aware, Richardson spent a huge amount of time running for president in 2007.
But it wasn’t in his genes not to be in complete charge of everything that was happening back here.
He managed to juggle both, which is an indication that public officials can multi-task.
To complete Harden’s lament, former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish ran for something else the entire time she was in office.
She would have run for governor in 2002 had Richardson not gotten in the race, scaring almost everyone out.
Denish kept her eye on the governorship the eight years she was in office and declared for governor as soon as she began her second term.
Governors and former governors always have a good chance to be considered for the presidency because they can point to their administrative experience.
A healthy majority of candidates running for the GOP nomination for president are governors or former governors.
That includes New Mexico’s former governor, Gary Johnson, who has been touring the nation for many months speaking to groups in the early primary states.
But Johnson continues to have trouble stirring up interest. He is a genuine tea party conservative on fiscal issues — in fact, the most genuine. But when he starts talking about the war on drugs or immigration or gay rights, he loses his audience.

Jay Miller