Lessons from Colorado

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NM candidates for governor need to take a look at Hickenlooper

By Merilee Dannemann

During a visit to relatives in Colorado, I found their governor’s race far more entertaining than ours. In fact, the political theater doesn’t get much better, and it sheds some light on why ours is so frustrating.
Democrat John Hickenlooper, Denver’s mayor, was about to face Republican Dan Maes, a businessman affiliated with the Tea Party. Then former Congressman Tom Tancredo, after earlier urging tea partiers to work with Republicans, jumped the fence. Before the Republican primary, he asked both candidates to step aside so he could run. They didn’t, so he declared his candidacy on behalf of the Constitution Party. Except that it already had a candidate. He may not have consulted the Constitution Party about the honor he was about to bestow.
As I was leaving the Mile-High City, conservatives were pleading with Tancredo to honor his own advice and not divide the Republicans. In a three-way race of Hickenlooper, the party pooper, and Maes, polls show Hickenlooper waltzing to the governor’s mansion.
Meanwhile, back in New Mexico we have a plodding contest in which two smart candidates made snippy remarks about each other in their first debate. The only theatrics here: Republican Susana Martinez wants to debate the governor, which is like going into battle and shooting at dead people. It’s one of those ideas sleep-deprived campaign workers come up with at 3 a.m.
Hickenlooper offers an interesting study to would-be candidates. I heard him speak three years ago at the National Federation of Press Women convention in Denver, when he gave the mayor’s traditional welcoming address. We were impressed with how down to earth and unassuming – how unpolitician-like he was. That’s probably his greatest strength; people see him as a regular guy. He doesn’t take himself too seriously.
On the campaign trail, Hickenlooper has staked out the middle ground. “I’m an entrepreneur on loan to the government,” he likes to say. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal who would shrink the size of state government while increasing efficiency. And he has the track record to back that up: The City of Denver has 7 percent fewer employees than when he started seven years ago. By comparison, New Mexico’s race has a surreal quality. That’s because Hickenlooper has run a government. He has a track record that he can brag on and his opponents can rag on.
Neither of our candidates has governed, so we have dueling talking points. Diane Denish is the best and most active lieutenant governor in memory, but the buck doesn’t stop at her desk. Other than the programs in her charge, she can neither claim credit nor receive blame for the administration’s actions.
The thinking voter who looks at experience and platforms will find nuance and very different styles. Martinez, the feisty prosecutor, versus the deliberate, focused Denish. As a newbie, Martinez can charge in and promise “bold change.” Others have made such promises before, and in time the sandstorms of politics, budgets and public scrutiny blunt their swords. Denish, who has lived in the belly of the beast for eight years, avoids sweeping declarations and offers, instead, plans.
Both could take a cue from the regular guy to the north.