One More Election Retrospective: Winners and Losers Watch

The countdown has begun. It’s 60 days till the Obama Inauguration AND the opening gavel of the 2009 legislative session. What are we to make of the altered political landscape left in the wake of Election 2008? Who are some the real winners and losers?

NM Republicans… swept away

The following numbers tell a lot: In 2000, Gore beat Bush by 365 votes. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry by 5,988. In 2008, Obama beats McCain by over 125,000. Can you say, “shock and awe”?

The October 2007 retirement announcement by U.S. Senator Pete Domenici set the dominoes a’tumblin’. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce gave up their congressional seats and slugged it out in the Republican Senate primary won by Pearce. The end result? Today the Dems find themselves in total control of the entire New Mexico federal delegation for the first time since 1966.

Big winners: Senator Elect Tom Udall and Congressmen Elect Ben Ray Lujan, Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague.

Marty Fatigue

On the Dem side, a big loser was Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. Who can forget when His Arrogance emerged from a May 2006 meeting with DNC Chairman Howard Dean to announce that he was endorsing Domenici’s re-election? Up yours, Howie!

Fast forward sixteen months. Domenici retires.

This prompted Chavez to do a quick 180 and declare that he really wanted his party’s Senate nomination. But when the first raft of polls showed primary voters by overwhelming margins wanted a Democrat, not a dipstick, Marty dropped out to avoid a drubbing at the hands of Tom Udall.

The Mayor’s drama wasn’t quite done, however. Shortly after Obama wrapped up the nomination, Chavez put his political tone deafness on full display by gravely advising the media that his party’s standard-bearer would have a tough time in winning New Mexico’s Hispanic vote. So Obama ended up getting 69%.

Down but not out at the Roundhouse

The 2008 election was a disaster for the special interest lobbyists who have long grown accustomed to calling most of the shots at the leg. The state senate has been their trusty firewall against reform. But will it stay that way?

It may not be after the pounding received by its controlling faction — the lobbyist wing of the Democratic Party (hereafter referred to as the DP-LW).

The earthquake started in the June primary when two DP-LW kingpins – James Taylor and Corporations Committee Chairman Shannon Robinson — were upended by dynamic newcomer progressives, Eric Griego and Tim Keller.

The losers (along with Rep. Dan Silva who lost to another progressive insurgent, Eleanor Chavez) subsequently gave new meaning to the term “frivolous lawsuit” when their attempt to overturn their landslide defeats was dismissed in District Court.

Then the tsunami of November 4th hit.

Two more progressives, Steve Fischman of Las Cruces and Tim Eichenberg of Albuquerque ousted Republican incumbents Leonard Lee Rawson and Diane Snyder. And in Sandoval County, Democrat John Sapien edged out another archconservative Republican stalwart, Steve Komadina.

Take the case of Snyder. She, of the famous boast on the floor of the Senate during an ethics reform debate that “my friends and buds are all of the corporate lobbyists”, lost an Albuquerque northeast heights district that had never before elected a Democrat — by 12 points.

But Rawson’s loss struck at the heart of the Senate power structure. Although nominally the Republican floor Whip, Rawson’s real clout came from his role in the tacit leadership coalition that actually runs the Senate – conservative Dems Tim Jennings (President Pro Tem) and John Arthur Smith (Finance Committee Chair), with an occasional assist from Dem floor leader Michael Sanchez.

The bitter truth of the matter is that a few well-positioned Democrats, who have long benefited from the lobbyist driven status quo, were none too thrilled to see the size of their party’s caucus grow in number. Too many Dems! Kind of makes the situation, how would you say, unmanageable. The implicit threat of a straight-up cross-party coalition loses its punch.

This explains Jennings’ last ditch robocall in support of his coalition partner Rawson. It was the act of a dinosaur desperately clinging to power. (See Vile Acts Department: Lest we forget that Jennings was one of only two Democrats who voted in support of, and helped to pass, Rawson’s killer amendment postponing the effective date of a key ethics reform bill, campaign contributions limits, until the year 3007.)

So it’s not over yet. Can Jennings hang on to power? Don’t underestimate the dinosaurs and their lobbyist enablers. And don’t underestimate the ability of Jennings and Sanchez to rally those elements within the caucus with simmering resentments toward what they perceive as Governor Bill’s encroachments on legislative authority. The impending budget meltdown will fan those flames of discontent. The DP-LW is down, but certainly not out.

And the most delightful and surprising winner (and loser) were…

Democrat Karen Gianinni (aka The Dragon Slayer) is the amazing woman who pulled the amazing upset — taking down the last of the “Red Bull Republicans”, Representative Justine Fox-Young, in House District 30. Protege of Dan Foley and master of the GOP filibuster, Fox-Young grabbed headlines late in the campaign by holding a fateful press conference to announce a “political bombshell” — the claim to have “undeniable proof that there was voter fraud” used in the June primary election to defeat her pal, Representative Dan Silva (DP-LW).

Well, the bombshell blew up in faces of Justine and Dan, raising questions about their complicity in voter intimidation and identity theft. Bye… and bye.

Good luck, Mary Ellen. We’re thinking of you.


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