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Lieutenant governor race attracts less interest

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Four years ago, there were five candidates for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. This year, there is one, Deb Haaland, and she is a relative unknown outside party circles.

Haaland rejects the notion that the lack of competition for the nomination is a reflection of how many Democrats view their prospects of denying re-election to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

“We’re very confident about winning,” she says.

Haaland notes that two of the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor in 2010 are running this year for the party’s nomination to challenge Martinez in the November general election. They are state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and former government executive Lawrence Rael of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

Haaland also says that early endorsements of her by some state Democratic Party leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen and House Speaker Ken Martinez of Grants, may have discouraged others from challenging her for the nomination for lieutenant governor in the June primary election.

HAALAND: "Very confident about winning" (Courtesy of Debra Haaland)

HAALAND: “Very confident about winning” (Courtesy of Debra Haaland)

“It certainly didn’t hurt,” she says.

Marie Q. Julienne of Albuquerque, who described herself as a researcher and doctoral student at the University of New Mexico, filed nominating petitions for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, but the Secretary of State’s Office ruled her ineligible for the ballot because of too few petition signatures.

Julienne filed a court challenge last month to Haaland’s petitions but has since withdrawn the action. Among other things, Julienne alleged the Haaland petitions included signatures from people who weren’t Democrats or who weren’t registered voters at their listed addresses.

Haaland, 53, of Albuquerque, is a tribal administrator for San Felipe Pueblo and has long been active in Democratic politics. She is a member of Laguna Pueblo and chairs the Laguna Development Corp. board of directors. It’s believed that an enrolled tribal member has never before been on a major party gubernatorial ticket in New Mexico.

Haaland says registering more Democratic voters and getting Democrats to the polls will be key in November. She also says the state needs to do more to combat child hunger and to develop the renewable energy industry as a source of badly needed jobs.

The duties

The job of lieutenant governor is pretty much a blank canvas. It is what the occupant makes of the position.

Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor is president and presiding officer of the Senate, but the Senate meets only one or two months of a year. The lieutenant governor gets to vote only in the case of a tie.

The lieutenant governor is a member of several major boards and commissions, including the Board of Finance, the Spaceport Authority, the Border Authority and the Mortgage Finance Authority.

Also, under state law, the lieutenant governor is required to serve as a liaison between state agencies and residents, report to the governor on his or her work and perform any other duties assigned by the governor.

SANCHEZ: More low key than his predecessor (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANCHEZ: More low key than his predecessor (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Different approach

John Sanchez, lieutenant governor under Martinez, has been more low key than his predecessor, Democrat Diane Denish, who served eight years with Gov. Bill Richardson before losing the gubernatorial race to Martinez in 2010.

As of March 1, there were only four employees on the payroll of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and two of those were working in the Governor’s Office. A Martinez spokesman says the offices share the employees. Denish’s staff topped out at nine employees.

Sanchez has cast five tie-breaking votes in the Senate during his more than three years as lieutenant governor, according to his office.

On the final day of this year’s regular legislative session, which ended in February, Sanchez voted against a bill that would have allowed public school students to obtain waivers from taking any standards-based assessment that wasn’t to be factored into their grade point averages.

Sanchez said the legislation, if it had become law, would have threatened $120 million in federal funding for schools.

The lieutenant governor voted in favor of a bill that would have set a speed limit of 55 mph on unmarked county roads. The legislation later died in the House. Currently, a motorist can drive up to 75 mph on unmarked county roads, depending upon road conditions.

Both Sanchez and Martinez are unopposed within their party for re-election.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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