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Will Kilmer take on Denish?

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By The Staff

By JAY MILLER

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The time has come for serious candidates to begin making public announcements about their intentions to run for office.

For incumbents, that's relatively easy. Put out the word you plan to run again and make sure your previous supporters are still with you.

But for non-incumbents, there is much to be done. Supporters must be lined up before another candidate grabs them. Fundraising must start before donors get tapped out.

Most importantly, candidates must get their name out before potential voters. Some candidates already have started doing that. In this and some future columns, we'll begin reviewing the races for you.

There will be no U.S. Senate contest this year so the governors' race will be at the top of the statewide ballot.

First among likely Democratic gubernatorial candidates is Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who has let her intentions about that office be known for years. She has been raising money for some time and reports to the public more often than is required by state law.

It's not a bad way to let voters know you're serious and it might make some potential opponents check their hole cards. At this point, Denish has raised almost $2 million.

Denish has served as lieutenant governor for almost seven years, during which she has skillfully presided over an independent minded Senate. During her first four-year term, Gov. Bill Richardson involved her in his decisions and operation as much as any governor ever has.

During the first two years of his second term, he was out of state campaigning much of the time. Even though that made Denish acting governor, Richardson was still calling the shots in phone conversations with top aides.

Last December, when it appeared Denish would be governor by late January, everything changed. Richardson mentally checked out while future Gov. Denish made preparations to hit the ground running. She appointed a transition team and asked for resignations from the hundreds of Richardson appointed jobholders.

A massive switching of loyalties ensued and then suddenly everything was off. But it didn't go back to normal. Too much had happened during that month.

Denish didn't disband her transition team. Would Richardson be indicted? Would he be cleared and off to another job in Washington? Would the grand jury drag on and Richardson accept a lucrative job outside of government?

So far, the answer is none of the above. It could remain that way for 19 more months or it could change tomorrow. People at the top of government are still on edge and relations between Richardson and Denish are understandably strained.

Gov. Richardson did make an appearance recently at a Denish fundraiser. It was a sign of a possible thaw in their relationship. But Richardson also has made encouraging comments about the possibility of actor Val Kilmer running against Denish.

Kilmer doesn't appear to be tremendously serious although he has made moves that lead one to think he could be a potential candidate. He has made public appearances in the state. He has talked with a high-powered Washington public relations firm. His entire ranch on the Pecos River is up for sale. And now someone citing Kilmer’s political negatives has conducted a push poll.

And there is now a Val Kilmer blog. He doesn't write it but it is done by someone close to him who has used Kilmer writings and interviews that speak poetically about love, spirituality and the beauty of New Mexico. It's a perfect counterpoint to the interview excerpts that have brought him so much grief around the state.

The blog sounds vaguely like the Kilmer I experienced recently when I ran across a 1987 inaugural issue of Southwest Opinion and Review, which contained a poem by Kilmer, written while on location in New Zealand.

A celebrity like Kilmer can get in the game late. Others can't. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Attorney General Gary King toyed with a gubernatorial run and decided instead to seek reelection to their old offices.

Senate majority floor leader Michael Sanchez is keeping the door open a crack but precious time is passing.