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Tussle Over 'Tejana' in Gov. Race

By Deborah Baker
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          So what, exactly, is a "Tejana," and why is Diane Denish's campaign using the term to attack Susana Martinez?
        The answers depend on whom you ask.
        A new commercial in the campaign television wars has Denish's campaign labeling Martinez as a "Tejana" who is "bought and paid for by a Texas billionaire."
        "We know that Susana Martinez is from Texas ... Susana es una Tejana," says Denish's lieutenant governor running mate, Brian Colón — who was born in New York but moved to New Mexico with his family as an infant.
        Martinez was born in El Paso and lived there through high school. She has lived in New Mexico since 1986 and is in her fourth term as the elected district attorney in Las Cruces.
        Denish was born and raised in Hobbs, in the oil-and-gas producing southeastern part of the state sometimes referred to as "Little Texas."
        Democrat Denish and Republican Martinez are vying to succeed Gov. Bill Richardson, who was born in California to a family that lived in Mexico and who attended prep school and college on the East Coast before moving to New Mexico to run for Congress.
        Christine Sierra, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, said in response to questions from the Journal that the Denish campaign appears to be trying to evoke the stereotype of affluent, conservative, primarily Anglo Texans who come to New Mexico to hunt and ski and are perceived by some local residents as wanting to take over.
        But being from El Paso doesn't quite fit that bill, according to Sierra, who is also an El Paso native. The border city is heavily Mexican-American, Democratic and working-class, politically and culturally different from much of West Texas, she said.
        "They're trying to portray (Martinez) as a Tejana, which means 'outsider' to New Mexicans," Sierra said. The implication is that "she carries with her a different political culture, and ... that she would not have New Mexico's interest at heart," Sierra said.
        In the ad, Colón says the Nov. 2 election is "not just about our history and our culture, but it's also about the future of our state ... about who protects our water and our land."
        Denish, he adds, is "from New Mexico, and she's of New Mexico."
        Robert Aragon, a Democratic former state lawmaker who supports Martinez, objected that the ad turns a "whisper campaign" into "a public smear campaign" and "is very clearly aimed at dividing northern Hispanics from southern Hispanics."
        "It demonstrates a stunning display of intolerance and lack of appreciation for the true diversity of our culture," he said in a statement provided by the Martinez campaign.
        A recently formed political organization, We Are New Mexico, has been cranking out brochures, bumper stickers and radio ads attacking "Susana la Tejana" as a tool of out-of-state special interests.
        In its literature, the group cites New Mexico's long history of fighting Texas over water rights and says it's concerned how the next governor will administer the state's water plan.
        "Susana is being funded from Texas," said the organization's president, Martin Suazo of Las Vegas. "We don't feel that Texas should have a say in New Mexico policy and New Mexico legislation, and I don't think a $450,000 contribution is going to go unheeded."
        Chris Cervini, Denish's spokesman, said Martinez "is on the side of powerful, out-of-state corporations who will take advantage of New Mexico families and pollute our land and water."
        The Texas billionaire referred to in Denish's ad is Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who has contributed to New Mexico GOP candidates and to national conservative causes. The national causes included Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran ads against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
        Perry has given Martinez at least $350,000, and his wife, Doylene, gave her $100,000.
        Denish referred to Martinez as "a Texan" in a Sept. 13 interview with the Rio Grande Sun, according to a story published by the Española newspaper on Sept. 16.
        She also said in that interview that Martinez's campaign is being funded by the oil and gas industry because the GOP nominee is promising to get rid of regulations, according to the story. Denish said she was for "balanced regulation," the newspaper said.
        The Martinez campaign called Denish's campaign commercial "a desperate attempt to divide New Mexicans."
        Martinez campaign manager Ryan Cangiolosi said Martinez has lived in the state her entire adult life "and dedicated the last 25 years to fighting for New Mexico children and protecting our community."
        "Does Denish believe the fact that she (Denish) was born only five miles on the New Mexico side of the border is relevant?" Cangiolosi asked.

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