Convention approaches suggest party differences

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By Harold Morgan

Two years ago in their choice of place for preprimary conventions, New Mexico’s Democrats and Republicans suggested widely contrasting visions of the future. For the vast majority not worried about such events, the conventions gather party and candidate faithful. Candidates receiving at least 20 percent of the delegate vote get on the ballot for the June primary election. Candidates with less than 20 percent must gather additional petition signatures to get on the ballot.

The organized state parties stage the event. How the parties approach the task suggests something (maybe not much) about how the parties view the world.

Crowd size is one site-selection variable. Democrats invite a couple of thousand people to their party. For Republicans, it is 600 or so.

In 2008, the Democrats embraced the future and chose the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, several miles from anywhere except Rio Rancho’s city hall. The Star Center is new, innovative at least in location, government owned, and losing some money on operations.

Republicans, under the leadership of Allen Weh, went to an old standby for Republican events, the Marriott Hotel in the Uptown area of Albuquerque. The Marriott is a business hotel and does well at what it does. But exciting, no. Just finding the Star Center was exciting by comparison. Republicans went on to massive losses in 2008. Weh is now running for governor, hoping he can persuade voters to ignore his record as party chair.

On March 13, the two parties again held preprimary conventions, both at Hiltons, certainly coincidentally. Again, the meeting places were quite different.

Republicans went to the Hilton Hotel in Albuquerque, at the intersection of Interstates 40 and 25. A tried and true convention hotel, the Hilton has a nice pueblo derivative design, a new and unloved exterior paint job and is incredibly convenient.

Democrats seem to like out of the way locations — a party of the people instead of those evil Republican business oligarchs, Democrats sent the faithful north to what is known at one place on its Web site as the Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort and Spa at Buffalo Thunder.

More commonly called the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, the 395-room facility, north of Santa Fe on Pojoaque Pueblo land, describes itself as “the largest destination casino resort in New Mexico.” Besides being a casino, Buffalo Thunder has made other financial news. Built for $245 million, last year Buffalo Thunder twice missed payments on the bonds issued to pay for the construction.

In a self-congratulatory post-convention e-mail to the masses, Richardson administration heir apparent Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said she had joined her friends “at Buffalo Thunder north of Santa Fe. With one voice we said we are ready for a new way forward for New Mexico.”

The parties’ preprimary approach contrasted: The Republicans said nothing about the preprimary on the party Web site’s home page at gopnm.com. Maybe the Rs haven’t quite shaken the closed-club approach of the Weh era and before.

For the Democrats, the pre-primary led the Upcoming Events section on the home page, www.nmdemocrats.net. This section appears when the page opens.

The Rs and Ds have another communication difference. Republicans have improved in one transparency aspect. Now Republicans post the names of the Central Committee, a change from a few years ago. But the names are accessed via a map with no addresses listed. The Democrats post the Central Committee on a spreadsheet, with addresses. Score that transparency point for the Democrats.

The Democrats’ new way forward for New Mexico looks like the same old way of the disastrous Richardson administration. Tried and true and a little boring looks better and better.

© 2010 New Mexico News Services