Merilee Dannemann: Advertising hits legislature

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By Merilee Dannemann

The campaign for the Legislature reached a point this season I hoped I would never see.

Four years ago I saw a billboard on I-25 in Albuquerque, advertising for a candidate for the state Senate. I thought this was way over the top. 

Billboard advertising for legislative seats might make sense in more rural, geographically larger districts, where it will reach primarily district residents and where the cost is appropriately lower. But not on the freeway in Albuquerque. It’s a waste of money, unless the candidate has a brother-in-law in the billboard business or has raised enough money to waste a lot of it.     

This year we reached a new level of conspicuous waste. Most of it was attributable to the people who run political operations for Gov. Susana Martinez. Legislative advertising has come to television – and it’s down and dirty.

Reform New Mexico Now, a super PAC associated with the governor’s political consultants, has made several TV commercials related to legislative races. One of these urged voters to turn two powerful incumbent state senators out of office: President Pro-Tem Tim Jennings, of Roswell, and Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, of Belen. Gov. Martinez appeared in the commercial. 

The ad was ugly and nasty. Nastiness is not exactly a new feature in New Mexico politics, but two things worry me greatly about this ad.

First, the governor has intervened publicly in a legislative election. This is a declaration of war against the Democrats in the Legislature. They can be expected to retaliate in January by playing kickball with her legislative agenda. 

Who loses? We do. New Mexico is too small, too poor and too vulnerable to have a legislature that mirrors the disgraceful behavior of Congress, where burning national issues can’t get resolved. 

Our two parties have to be able to work together.

Second, and perhaps worse, the use of television is disturbing. It means somebody has money to throw around and is showing it off, to a degree we have not seen before in legislative campaigns. Broadcast TV reaches a geographically broad audience and cannot be targeted to a particular legislator’s district. 

And it must be noted that the ads were not especially persuasive.   These ads were not necessary to motivate Republicans to vote against Jennings and Sanchez, and it’s unlikely they changed the minds of any Democrats.  

If we were supposed to believe that the purpose of these ads was to change the election results, the ad buy was simply stupid. So what was the purpose? Maybe it was different from what it superficially appeared to be.  

We have to wonder whether the intention of these ads was to pad the portfolio of somebody who has higher political aspirations and doesn’t mind stepping all over New Mexico to achieve his or her purpose.

 I don’t know who that is, but I don’t think it’s the governor. For her, the strategy is too much of a gamble. 

Alas, New Mexico has been used as a stepping stone before; we have only to think back to former Gov. Bill Richardson. Damage was done then. The kind of damage being done now is not necessarily worse but is different, and one of its victims might ultimately be the volunteer Legislature. If candidates have to run six-figure campaigns, we can’t reasonably expect them to serve without salary.

Not long ago, a legislative candidate could run a winning campaign with a few thousand dollars, help from friends, and a lot of shoe leather. I hope that’s still possible and that this year’s use of TV does not set a precedent, but we’re on the slippery slope. What’s now being called the Political Industrial Complex has found its way to New Mexico. It will make a few people rich, and our republic will be the poorer for it.

Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.