A committee run by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s political adviser is hammering the Senate’s Democratic majority leader in campaign mailings as a roadblock to her agenda.
At least eight mailers critical of Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, have been sent into his largely Valencia County district by Reform New Mexico Now, an independent expenditure committee run by GOP strategist Jay McCleskey, according to the Sanchez campaign.
Sanchez faces Republican David Chavez, a first-term state representative from Los Lunas, in a rough-and-tumble general election race.
Both men are Belen-born lawyers; Chavez ran against Sanchez unsuccessfully in 2000.
Sanchez is hoping the GOP’s tactics and the deluge of negative ads will backfire with local voters.
That’s what Democrats believe happened in June in a Senate Republican primary election race in the Clovis area, in which Martinez and McCleskey were heavily involved. Their candidate, Angie Spears, lost the election, and the GOP winner, farmer and rancher Pat Woods, attacked McCleskey as a “slick ABQ political consultant” and asked voters to reject “mud-slinging and negative attacks.”
According to McCleskey, Reform New Mexico Now is currently targeting 24 legislative districts “to counter the trial lawyer and labor union special interests” and elect candidates who agree with the first-term GOP governor on her chief policy initiatives.
Sanchez “has fought against nearly every reform offered by the governor, especially ending the practice of social promotion and repealing the law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” McCleskey said. “The public deserves a spirited debate about those issues, so they can make an informed decision in November.”
As an independent expenditure committee, Reform New Mexico Now can collect and spend as much as it wants, but may not coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.
It has raised more than $564,000, including at least $230,000 from oil and gas interests and $250,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, D.C.
Sanchez’s campaign in a mailer calls his opponent “a puppet for extremist Jay McCleskey’s out-of-state corporations and special interests.”
Chavez says “the future of New Mexico is at stake” in the race.
“Michael Sanchez has pushed his own agenda and we have paid the price,” Chavez said.
Reform New Mexico Now’s anti-Sanchez literature calls the lawmaker of 20 years “the biggest roadblock to reform in New Mexico” and accuses him of abusing his power – he controls the flow of bills to the floor – to prevent votes on Martinez-backed legislation.
Sanchez says the ads are misleading and contain half-truths.
“The governor’s attitude has been, her pieces of legislation are perfect, or her proposals are perfect. She’s been unwilling to compromise on any of the issues. It’s her way or the highway, her way or no way,” Sanchez said.
“I don’t think I’m a roadblock. I’m a person who wants to look at bills and make them better for everybody, not just a few,” he also said.
The governor blamed him in 2011 for not bringing her House-passed social promotion ban up for a Senate vote in the session’s final hours. The bill required that third-graders not reading proficiently be held back for a year and given remedial help.
Sanchez has voted for an alternative proposal backed by some Democrats providing remedial help in reading and math, but not mandatory retention.
Both candidates are from politically active families. Sanchez is the brother of former legislator and longtime House speaker Raymond Sanchez. Chavez is the son of the late Tibo Chavez, a Democrat who served as a judge, a state senator – he was Senate majority leader for eight years – and lieutenant governor.
Sanchez has outpaced Chavez in campaign fundraising: He reported collecting $122,788 for the race as of Sept. 10, while Chavez had raised $58,086.
Chavez says in his campaign literature that cutting red tape “and job killing taxes” on small businesses would be his top priority in the Senate, and that he supports the governor on social promotion and driver’s licenses.
He voted for the Martinez-backed repeal of the driver’s license bill in 2011; this year he sponsored an alternative proposal to create special permits to allow illegal immigrants to drive.
He says he’ll work in a bipartisan fashion, and in campaign literature he calls Sanchez “the lead obstructionist.”