ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Before last night, when they showed up for their first debate, I was about to send out a search party to find the Democratic candidates for governor.
Were they bound and gagged in a broom closet at McCleskey Media Strategies?
Did they get lost on the campaign trail after making a wrong turn at Maljamar?
If someone held a banana to your head, could you name all five?
My colleague James Monteleone, the newspaper’s politics reporter, helped us out with that last question on Sunday. He revealed the shocking news that, with eight months to go before the 2014 election for governor and only three months before the Democratic primary, five Democrats are in the running.
Here they are, in alphabetical order: Gary King, Linda Lopez, Howie Morales, Lawrence Rael and Alan Webber. King is the state’s attorney general, Lopez and Morales are state senators, Rael is the former executive director of the Mid-Region Council or Governments and Webber is a publishing entrepreneur.
I went looking for the five on the golf course, because the Martinez administration has teed up some doozies in its short three years in Santa Fe:
• The Downs at Albuquerque racetrack and casino contract. Law enforcement has looked at the contract, awarded in 2011, and to date there has been no indication of either grand jury activity or subpoenas. But it will be the voters who decide whether it fails the smell test. (I’m giving away a free bumper sticker slogan to any Democrat who wants it: “Buster screwed us!”)
• The other smell test is at the Department of Human Services, which hired an auditing firm to go over the books of behavioral health providers, told lawmakers the providers “committed widespread and egregious fraud,” then removed a sentence in the audit report that said, the audit “did not uncover what it would consider to be credible allegations of fraud” and then responded to an audit of its own audit that found double billing and federal funds spent on alcohol as being “politically motivated.”
(Another free bumper sticker idea: “My auditor can beat up your honor student.”)
• The helicopter trip to get to a campaign fundraiser taken by the governor who campaigned on a “Sell the jet!” promise.
• A dead child named Omaree Varela, whose mother had been brought to the attention of the Children, Youth and Families Department, the state agency charged with protecting children, at least three times.
• The Human Services Department secretary, who, in one of the poorest states in the union and one ranked tops for hunger, said no one is really hungry.
• The New Mexico State Police’s high-profile shooting cases – the fatal shooting of an unarmed Santa Fe woman in her car and shots fired at a van full of children outside Taos.
• And two State Police officers’ roles as paid escorts for the governor’s husband’s trip to shoot an alligator in Louisiana.
• Speaking of shooting, the coyote-killing state Game and Fish Commission chairman’s resignation after he led a rich Oklahoma “hunter” to a cave on his property where dogs had trapped a cougar and held it for the kill.
You would think this would all add up to good news for Democrats and that they would be calling news conferences to tee off on these bloopers every chance they got.
Instead, the chairman of the state Democratic Party called out the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and then the Democratic Senate majority leader called out the party chairman for his calling out. Meanwhile, King has fought in court, successfully, to keep the “widespread and egregious fraud/no credible evidence of fraud” audits from being shared with the public so we could all, you know, decide.
(How about a campaign bumper sticker that simply says: “Oy”?)
Lopez, who seems to have psyched herself up for the game, took a shot at the Downs deal last month in the Senate Rules Committee she chairs and she sent out a fundraising letter this week that included the juicy phrases “shadowy inner circle” and “secret backroom deals.” It seems so long ago that Republican newcomer Susana Martinez was blistering the eight years of Democratic rule in Santa Fe – she might have even used the terms “shadowy inner circle” and “secret backroom deals” – and calling for sweeping change.
Now, New Mexico is still last in the nation for just about every economic and wellness indicator. Except coital exploits. Analysis of data from a smartphone app that times lovemaking ranks New Mexico tops in the nation for duration: 7 minutes, 1 second on average. If one of the candidates for governor doesn’t take credit for that, this is really going to be a dull campaign.