It’s New Year’s Eve and this is my final politics column of the year.
Just recently, I pointed out how terrible I am about making political predictions. So instead of talking about what’s in store for 2018, let’s just look at where New Mexico politics stand at the end of the year.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who was re-elected three years ago in a landslide — and bringing with her a new, if short-lived, GOP majority in the state House of Representatives — is ending her second term in a greatly weakened position, thanks largely to self-inflected wounds. Her downward slide was accelerated two years ago after her infamous “pizza party” at the Eldorado Hotel. (That was the rowdy holiday party in her hotel room in which she tried to throw her weight around with hotel staff, who wanted to evict her, and with Santa Fe police called to the scene, documented by embarrassing recordings that still live on the internet.)
Nothing nearly that bad happened in 2017 to tarnish her image. But the governor didn’t do herself any favors this year when, in a budget dispute with the Legislature, she vetoed the entire budget for all higher education in New Mexico.
Apparently, that was just a tactic to get the Legislature to come back and give her a budget more to her liking — and indeed that’s what happened by early summer. But vetoing the budgets of all those colleges and universities caused a lot of needless grief and worry for untold numbers of students, professors and college staff.
Martinez’s position isn’t nearly as weakened as Democratic predecessor Bill Richardson’s was at the outset of his final year in office. Richardson was plagued by a criminal grand jury looking into alleged pay to play with state investments. But in recent months, Martinez has seen her approval numbers drop to below 40 percent.
By the end of the year, a new nonprofit run by Martinez’s political team was running radio ads and sending mailers praising the governor — even though she can’t run for a third term. If she’s running for another political office, she’s done a great job keeping that a secret.
Well before the end of the year, the race to replace Martinez had showed a clear front-runner in both parties.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs remains the only Republican candidate for governor. He did a good job scaring away other potential GOP candidates for governor.
There has been no polling yet, but on the Democratic side, another current member of Congress, Michelle Lujan Grisham, by all available measures (i.e. campaign contributions and endorsements) is the clear favorite for the nomination at this point. That doesn’t mean she’s going to win. In recent weeks, one of her challengers, Jeff Apodaca, the son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca, has been more aggressive in his challenge, even running a television ad last week, way earlier than anyone else. Also seeking the Democratic nomination are state Sen. Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces and Peter DeBenedittis.
As for the lieutenant governor’s race … New Mexico still has a lieutenant governor? (!)
Because Pearce and Lujan Grisham are running for governor, New Mexico will be getting at least two new congressional members. There is a spirited Democratic primary in the Albuquerque area for Lujan Grisham’s seat (so far former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is the only Republican running) and a spirited Republican primary down in Pearce’s 2nd Congressional District. Several Democrats also are running in their primary in Pearce’s district, but so far the only one making much news is convicted stalker David Alcon, who recently was arrested on new staking charges. (As at least a couple of Democrats have pointed out, Alcon has yet to file required paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, so whether he actually gets on the ballot is questionable at this point.)
For the record, there also is a U.S. Senate race. Democrat Martin Heinrich is seeking a third term. So far, his only Republican opponent is a political newcomer, Mick Rich.
Again, I’m steering clear of predictions. A lot could happen between now and the primary (not to mention the general election). Front-runners could fall and dark horses could prevail. Stay tuned in 2018.