Take a trip down Route 66

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — New Mexico followed the national trend of tossing out the old in favor of the new in the recent primary elections. Doña Ana County Republicans will present a fresh face to the rest of the state in the person of Susana Martinez for governor.

Martinez has been district attorney in the county for some 13 years but not known much in the rest of New Mexico despite the efforts of state party leaders who wanted to entice her into running for state offices years ago.

Candidates from the Las Cruces area do well in gubernatorial elections despite the rest of the south being shut out the past 50 years. Republicans Ed Mechem and Gary Carruthers and Democrat Jerry Apodaca have served a total of 12 years in office. They probably got some extra bounce out of El Paso media although they were not well known to the rest of the state when they ran.

Martinez will be paired with lt. gov. candidate John Sanchez of Albuquerque, who tried winning at the top of the ticket eight years ago. Sanchez spent the past eight years making enough money in the roofing business to essentially self-finance his campaign this year.

This will be an expensive general election. Democratic candidate Diane Denish has over $2 million in her purse to get a big head start on Martinez but the national parties will weigh in heavily this time because it is a redistricting year and Republicans will want to prevent total Democratic control of the process.

Denish is fashioning herself as a Hobbs girl even though she’s spent most of her life in Albuquerque. It’s a clever move. She hasn’t lost her Hobbs accent and has concentrated on helping small communities develop their economies. She will play that card heavily.

The old Route 66 has long formed another major divide in our state between north and south, with communities along what is now I-40 considered to be in the north.

Except for Las Cruces, no southern community has provided New Mexico with a governor since Gov. John Burroughs, of Portales, in the late ’50s so it will be interesting to see how Martinez aims her campaign. She is likely to have a number of handlers since GOP leaders won’t want to see this possible superstar get out of control.

By the way, Martinez says she grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. That covers a lot of territory — from Colorado to Texas. We may hear more about that.

Let’s go back to Old Route 66 for a minute. It was the subject of much political intrigue in its day. NBC’s “Weekend Today Show” was recently in the state, traveling Route 66. It broadcast from Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

What was Route 66 doing in Santa Fe? Have you ever noticed the “Old Route 66” highway signs along the frontage roads south of Santa Fe? They’ve recently been put there.

The original Route 66 took off from somewhere around Clines Corners and circled the Santa Fe plaza. It then headed to Albuquerque down 4th Street and, from what I understand, kept heading south to Los Chavez, home of Sen. Dennis Chavez’s family, where it headed northwest and joined the present I-40 about 25 miles west of Albuquerque.

As the story goes, Albuquerque Mayor Clyde Tingley felt Albuquerque was getting pushed around so he ran for governor so he could straighten things out. He became good friends with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was intrigued with Tingley’s folksy ways.

Eventually Route 66 got straightened out through Albuquerque but it took a monumental road-building project between Moriarty and Albuquerque at the end of Tingley’s term to get the feat accomplished.

This Route 66 information has dribbled in to me through the years from old timers such as Frank “Pancho” Padilla, who no longer are with us. I would be pleased to have anyone straighten me out on any of this.