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GOP judicial candidates use humor to tout qualifications

From left, state Court of Appeals candidate Barbara Johnson, Supreme Court candidate Ned Fuller, Court of Appeals candidate Gertrude Lee and Supreme Court candidate Kerry Morris appear together in a series of ads. (Youtube)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Kerry Morris is not good at basketball. In fact, he’s downright awful, “but off the court, Kerry is a former prosecutor with 40 years of experience.”

Ned Fuller is a terrible baker, “but he’s a legal pro.”

Barbara Johnson is a little rough on saxophone, “but she’s a legal expert.” And Gertrude Lee isn’t a great painter, “but when it comes to the law, Gertrude is an experienced trial attorney.”

All four, who are running for either the state Supreme Court or Court of Appeals as Republicans, have banded together under a “law before politics” platform. It’s a move that hasn’t been seen in New Mexico in recent memory, as judicial candidates typically campaign independently from others in their party.

The candidates all share the same campaign website, anewvoiceforjustice.com, and make appearances in each other’s 30-second television ads.

A fifth candidate, Tom Montoya, who is running for Court of Appeals, is also part of the group and will shoot his video ad this weekend, campaign consultant Gerges Scott said.

The ads take a comedic approach and highlight something the candidates are bad at before touting their experience.

Morris’ ad, for example, shows him on a basketball court and launching a shot that is wide, wide to the left of the hoop.

“Let’s get Kerry off this court and onto the New Mexico Supreme Court,” the voiceover says.

Fuller, a Supreme Court candidate, burns a cake in his ad. Court of Appeals candidate Barbara Johnson plays a squeaky saxophone number, and Gertrude Lee, who is running for another Court of Appeals position, paints a picture that won’t likely appear in a gallery.

Although the ads don’t mention their party affiliation or their opponents, all of them have a line that says, “Now (he or she) is part of a team of judicial candidates that’s putting the law before politics” as they all appear in the shot.

Scott, a political consultant for the Republican candidates, said they created the coalition in hopes of getting their messages to resonate with voters.

“We just thought it would be unique, and we felt that they had a shared philosophy, and it would be better to get the message out as a collective group,” Scott said.

Tim Krebs, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, said the ads might have an effect on voters who do not vote along party lines by boosting name recognition. He also said their comedic nature could make an impression on voters and give them an advantage in a close race.

“It’s ingenious,” Krebs said. “I’m intrigued by it. I have not seen this before. Usually these judicial candidates are on their own in terms of their campaigning.”

Brian Morris, the campaign manager for four of the Democratic opponents – all of them incumbents, – criticized the ads, saying they should have focused solely on the individual candidate.

“I think it’s confusing for the voters,” Morris said. “I think it’s important for voters to understand each judge individually and what qualifies them, and they’re just not getting that.”

Two years ago a political action committee ran an ad that accused five Republican judges who were appointed to their seats by then-Gov. Susana Martinez of being Martinez’s “puppets.” The ad was paid for by a group called Safety and Justice for All, a committee funded mostly by trial lawyers. The ad was denounced by many, including the Democratic candidates in those races.

Scott said the Republican group was not formed in response to that ad.

Montoya was recently put on the ballot after a Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. He was originally left off after Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, determined that he did not submit his declaration of candidacy by the deadline.

In the Supreme Court, Fuller is challenging Shannon Bacon, and Kerry Morris is facing David Thomson. For Court of Appeals, Lee is running against Shammara Henderson and Libertarian Stephen Curtis, Johnson is facing Zach Ives and Montoya is challenging Jane Yohalem.

The higher court makeup is heavily Democratic. Four of five current Supreme Court justices are Democrats, as are nine of the 10 current Court of Appeals judges.

Absentee voting starts Oct. 6 for the Nov. 3 general election, and early voting will run Oct. 16 through Oct. 31, according to the secretary of state’s website.

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