New Mexico losing its only true leader

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By The Staff

New Mexico needs a franchise quarterback. Someone who can think deep, throw long, shake off the sack, rally the troops, charge ahead.

We're down by a field goal with 54 seconds on the clock. Who's going to take time out, devise a strategy, march us down the field?

We're not talking football here. This isn't about the Lobos or Aggies. This is about the government shutting down Cannon, cutting back at Los Alamos, shaving jobs at WIPP, withholding homeland security law enforcement funds from Farmington.

For more than 30 years Pete Domenici has been strapping on his shoulder pads, slapping on a helmet, leading the state to victory.

And now, beset by health problems and the vagaries of older age, the senator is going to step down and enjoy the rest he deserves.

Such a void. Not that New Mexico is left without players. We are fortunate to harness the services of Jeff Bingaman, an intellectually astute and effective senator of many years.

But make no mistake, it is Pete Domenici who has risen to icon status in our state.

The draft field does not look particularly promising. Unless Bill Richardson opts out of the presidential race and joins the Senate fray, the Democrats don't have a candidate with statewide heft.

And an exchange between two prominent Republican candidates signals we are in for a campaign of pettiness.

Given Pete Domenici's stature and the aura with which he has surrounded the Senate office, the wannabes look like they are playing bush league ball.

It happened like this.

Second district congressman Steve Pearce jumped into the campaign that first district congressman Heather Wilson had already claimed as her own territory.

Then, Peace decided he would stage a grandstand play. His campaign autodialed 130,000 New Mexico Republicans. About 13,000 agreed to stay on the line and listen to the congressman justify his opposition to a bill that would have provided health benefits to children.

(He said the bill has major flaws, is not good for the country, and is not good for New Mexico. This mirrors the position of President George Bush. Most Pearce positions do.)

The Wilson camp cried foul. Here's why. They said Pearce violated House ethics by urging those he called to contact him through his official, non-campaign phone number or check out his official, non-campaign website.

Well, shame on Steve. OK, if the congressman has violated ethics he needs to say "my bad" and stop that stuff. But if this is the type of petty crap Wilson and Pearce are going to dish out for the next several months, they will demean the Senate office and turn off voters in the process.

So far, Heather-Steve is similar to the juvenile sniping that occurred between Wilson and former Attorney General Patricia Madrid when the latter tried to unseat the congresswoman.

Remember the expensive full-color constituent mail pieces Heather put in your mailbox during that campaign? All at taxpayer's expense. Legal? Sure.

Ethical. Nah.

For the record, Patricia Madrid did the very same thing. Her brochures, too, flooded the state. As attorney general she had the legal right to use taxpayer money to warn us about consumer fraud, Internet hoaxes, and the like.

In both the Wilson and Madrid brochures, the women were featured in fancy, large colorful photographs.

If what we have seen in the last couple of weeks is any indication, we are in for a long, petty campaign. "People for Pearce," 'People for Heather"? Not now, not by a long shot. Maybe never.

Ned Cantwell welcomes response at ncantwell@beyondbb.com.