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The state under ticket

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By The Staff

By JAY MILLER

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Except for the land commissioner contest, all of New Mexico's down-ballot statewide races have incumbents seeking office again.

Secretary of State Mary Herrera, Attorney General Gary King, Treasurer James Lewis, and auditor Hector Balderas all are in their first term of office and eligible to seek a second four-year term.

Democrats sometimes draw opposition from within their own party in primary elections. Republicans almost never challenge their own. Republican Greg Sowards was severely chastised by the GOP state party chairman for challenging fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen back in the '90s.

Sometimes Republicans aren't even able to recruit a candidate for some of those races, especially treasurer and auditor. From time to time, proposals have been made to eliminate some or all of the down-ballot offices.

But New Mexicans like to have as much say-so as possible about their leaders. Never mind that they usually have no idea who the candidates are. A governor, on the other hand, tends to know the people he appoints.

A system, similar to the federal government model, in which the president appoints his entire team, could work especially well for Republicans in New Mexico.

The GOP never has been especially keen on the idea, but since 1950, Republicans have held the governor's office for 24 years and could have appointed their entire team instead of having to deal with Democrats in all, or nearly all, those offices.

The one open race next year will be to replace term-limited Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons, a Republican. Former land commissioner, Ray Powell, Jr. already has announced that he wants back in. Powell is a Democrat who held the office from 1993 to 2002.

Being the only Republican officeholder who has won a statewide general election, Lyons may decide to run for higher office. It is sometimes said that Republicans don't have much bench strength, meaning that they don't have a pool of possible candidates who have won statewide general elections for the down-ballot offices.

For awhile it was thought that Attorney General Gary King might decide to take another crack at the governor's office. Several Democratic names quickly were in the mix for that contest. We heard Rep. Al Park, who has briefly been in other statewide races; former state Democratic Chairman John Wertheim; Geno Zamora, Gov. Richardson's former chief counsel and District Attorney Lemuel Martinez, who four years ago ran unsuccessfully for attorney general.

Secretary of State Mary Herrera might get some Democratic primary opposition from Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinosa. According to Espinosa, many county clerks are not pleased with the inefficiency of Herrera's office.

Espinosa says other county clerks don't want to criticize Herrera since they have to work with her, but she's ready to point out the problems. Espinosa says she may run against Herrera next year. If she doesn't, she'll run in 2014.

Question: Next to Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's campaign war chest of almost $2 million, who has the next biggest state campaign account? Blogger Joe Monahan points out that it is none other than Gov. Bill Richardson, who has over $500,000 and still is collecting and spending money.

What for? He can't use it for federal purposes. He had a separate account for his presidential run, which he finally has paid off. But Richardson has been raising money and spending it on consultants.

Is he considering running for governor again in 2014? Will he run for one of the state offices we've been discussing? Former Gov. John E. Miles set a precedent for that back in the '40s when he ran for and won two land commission races.

Miles' famous announcement explained that he'd already been governor and now he wanted the most powerful office in the state. The land office manages nine million acres of surface land and 13 million oil, gas and mineral acres.