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 V.19 No.23 | June 10 - 16, 2010 

Ortiz y Pino

Missed It by This Much

I just spent a year campaigning for lieutenant governor. Looking at the experience through the lens of some of the many numbers involved gives a peek inside electoral politics. It also offers a glimpse of how much work it will take to recapture democracy in New Mexico. Consider these digits:

Twelve became five, but on June 2, only one remained. When I declared my candidacy in June 2009, there were already half a dozen other potential contenders. That grew to an even dozen by midsummer, at which point attrition kicked in and our ranks shrank to the five on the ballot.

My competitors spent hundreds of thousands on television, with Colón’s television budget outdoing all four other candidates combined.

Some dropped out because too many were seeking the job, but for me that was a good reason to stay in. I figured as a progressive, I might be able to garner 25,000 votes statewide, but probably not a whole lot more. So the more candidates vying for a piece of the action, the thinner the winning slice would have to be.

It seemed like a great strategy—but we’ll never know if it was, because I only got 15,000 votes and finished last. To win with that number would have probably required a field of 10 candidates chopping up the 130,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary.

The winner, Brian Colón, attracted 33,000—twice as many votes as I managed. Now he becomes Diane Denish’s running mate in the general election. Safe prediction: His primary responsibility will be to foster the impression there’s a vast distance between Denish and outgoing Bill Richardson. Even safer prediction: The Republicans will drape Richardson around Denish’s neck like a moth-eaten fur stole on a starlet.

It takes enormous effort, and there are no shortcuts, but precincts where we knocked on doors voted for me.

Nine hundred donors produced $115,000. After a year of constant fundraising, I’d brought in a little more than $115,000, which came from more than 900 individuals writing checks, most in the $25 to $100 range. I was proud of that grassroots support. It financed a good, solid (if frugal) campaign. But it wasn’t enough to buy television time until the last week, and then only $6,500 worth of spots on "Today," "The Daily Show" and "The Rachel Maddow Show."

My competitors spent hundreds of thousands on television, with Colón’s television budget outdoing all four other candidates combined. That was a major factor in his four-point margin of victory. Last June, he estimated it would take at least $500,000 to win, exactly the amount he raised.

Here’s the twin dilemma political contributions create: First, time spent hustling cash is time not spent learning about and discussing crucial issues, so it tends to dumb down civic dialogue. Second, you can’t raise much money with $25 checks. You need at least a few $10,000 and $25,000 gifts in the mix. And big donors will expect something in return.

A 33-county strategy trumps a 10-county one. Without the money (or the time) to hit every hamlet in this big state, we focused on the 10 counties with the most recognizable (and reachable) cadre of progressives. We dealt with the other 23 by mail and the Internet. In the past, those 10 accounted for almost 75 percent of the turnout, so we concentrated our efforts there.

But Colón’s 33-county strategy—borrowed openly from President Obama’s approach on the national level—paid off. I stayed close in the 10 counties, but he far outdistanced everyone in the rest of the state. It didn’t hurt that his four years as Democratic Party chairperson provided him with relationships with party officials in all counties, an advantage he exploited skillfully.

There are many other numbers that race through my mind when I think about this year, such as:

The 65,000 miles campaigning added to my ’99 Honda’s odometer—beyond the 125,000 it had when we started.

The 86 blackout days (from Jan. 1 to March 27) when the legislators running for statewide office were not allowed to solicit funds. This created an uneven playing field since it didn’t affect the candidates who weren’t lawmakers.

Events I attended: 41 house parties, 12 parades, three matanzas, 16 county conventions (I missed 17); 19 candidate forums; one televised debate; three radio debates; one enormous state convention; and two drag queen reviews.

Endorsements I received: two newspapers, seven legislators, two beloved former legislators and one political party not my own (they couldn’t vote in a Democratic primary, but the support of the Greens was deeply appreciated nonetheless).

And finally, perhaps most importantly, 80,000 voters received personal contacts from my campaign. Without money for television, door-to-door canvassing and personal phone calls can make up the difference. Did it work? Definitely! I ran much stronger in the areas we were able to do that personal canvassing.

That’s the single most hopeful lesson to draw from this campaign, the one no one should forget: Organizing works. It takes enormous effort, and there are no shortcuts, but precincts where we knocked on doors voted for me. Those we mailed stuff to (and even more so, those we weren’t able to contact at all) didn’t.

So the secret for re-animating democracy isn’t high-tech or found on Madison Avenue; it is working person-to-person, and it is sweat- and shoe leather-based. We didn’t lose. We just ran out of time.

Look at campaign finance reports here.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail jerry@alibi.com.
Public Comments (8)
  • Ortiz only hope for Democracy?  [ Thu Jun 17 2010 11:08 AM ]

    Apparently Democracy can only be saved in this state by electing Mr. Ortiz y Pino to the Lieutenant Governor's office. At least that is how he has framed this column from beginning to end. He lost, and therefore Democracy was contravened.

    To me it looks like it was a fair contest. Pino points out the advantages of the one who bested him, and leaves out the advantages he has enjoyed, such as a regular column in a weekly newspaper read by many thousands of NM voters.

    My guess is that the primary voters have found him lacking and decided to promote the person they felt would have the best chance in the full election. How is that not Democracy in action?

  • Maybe the voters know the Progessive agenda  [ Mon Jun 21 2010 6:11 PM ]

    Mr. Ortiz y Pino. It is possible that the voters are learning what the progressive agenda is and do not want to play that game. I know that is one of the reasons I voted for someone else. And it was Colon.


    Last edited [6/21/10 6:12 PM]
  • Progress aborted  [ Mon Jun 21 2010 8:17 PM ]

    Mr. Ortiz y Pino

    It shocks me that you were expecting a grass-roots campaign to win, or even come close, in a Democratic Party primary. You have been covering politics here for a long time. Haven't you figured out that the party bosses establish their candidates based on a strategy, and they pare off the others, like unwanted branches. Mayor Chavez could add a few comments, if he wanted; he was screwed by the Democratic National Party in his Senate race.

    Mr. Colon headed the time before last general primary and it was the most embarrassing, incompetent election in our NM history and maybe the Nations'. For his efforts he was given a standing ovation shortly after. Because of the universal criticism he received, the party seemed to have felt they had to rally around, and circle the wagons for their next anointed gov after the Denish years. It's great theatre but what about leadership?

    I'm glad my Green Party endorsed you as our candidate. Your columns are usually great. You could be an effective leader. Your columns are a record that anyone can look up. Where am I to look for the Lt. Gov Dem candidates' opinions? Quietly hidden away, perhaps??

    Please stay in the hunt, sir.

    Regards

    Mike

  • Did I read the same article as everyone else?  [ Thu Jul 1 2010 9:49 AM ]

    I don't see Ortiz y Pino complaining that he lost. I see him doing a post-mortem analysis of strategy. What we see here is:

    1) legwork appears to matter. He and the winner got improved performance in areas where they got off their asses.

    2) this is a very expensive job interview. A year of your time and 65k miles on your car? Most people are going to pass on that.

    We're always going of have a dearth of candidates if that's what it takes, and this (Lt Gov) is even one of the lamer and less powerful positions. If The People don't like this, they better do something about it. My suggestion: get on all the candidates' websites (pull, don't make them push) so that campaigning is less expensive. As long as it's expensive to get into, government is going to be a career rather than a civic duty that regular people reluctantly take a shift doing.

  • Green onions, not sour grapes  [ Thu Jul 1 2010 8:18 PM ]

    I don't see Ortiz y Pino complaining that he lost, either, so we're in agreement.

    I attempted to amplify his point: "it didn’t hurt that his (Colon) four years as Democratic Party chairperson provided him with relationships with party officials in all counties, an advantage he exploited skillfully." He could have been far more strident with this observation, but chose to be reserved. Kudos!

    Regards

    Mike

  • More Than One Progressive  [ Thu Aug 12 2010 9:00 AM ]

    Brian Colon is also progressive, in attitude and on the issues. At one time, Mr. Ortiz y Pino tried to drape Gov. Richardson around his neck while also claiming that Mr. Colon was/is not progressive. Just not true.

    Here's a recent endorsement that describes the Brian Colon that I know: [link]

    Mr. Colon also conducted a grassroots primary campaign, attending various functions practically daily, and raised money primarily by small donations from individuals. He just performed more of both activities than Mr. Ortiz y Pino.

    The context for the following quote is that it was provided as advice on how to win by the State Democratic Chair (Colon, at the time) to a potential Democratic candidate (Ortiz y Pino): "Last June, he estimated it would take at least $500,000 to win, exactly the amount he raised." Prescient, I'd say.

    As for the distance between Richardson and Denish: it exists in fact as the two were never close. As long as that piece of truth is told, Martinez should have a hard time bundling them together!

  • To Mike: Colon is the Real Deal  [ Thu Aug 12 2010 12:03 PM ]

    From Mike:

    ... Your columns are a record that anyone can look up. Where am I to look for the Lt. Gov Dem candidates' opinions? Quietly hidden away, perhaps??

    Four comments: 1) Opinions stated in a small-circulation weekly newspaper are hardly policy statements. Mr. Ortiz y Pino is a state senator with a long record representing a liberal district. That record is a better source for evaluating his potential as a statewide elected official. In the meantime, he can do a lot of good in the state senate.

    2) Mr. Colon's statements can be found here: [link] and on other pages of his website. You could also attend a house party or other function and listen to his answers or ask your own questions. There are quite a few YouTube videos out there, too, including at least one that addresses your concerns about how the Democratic presidential caucus was conducted in New Mexico. Here's part one of his acceptance speech for Democratic Party chair: [link] . Part two should be posted nearby, as are parts of stump speeches and Q-and-A's.

    3) Lt. Gov. Denish's positions are easily found here: [link] . Heath Haussaman's opinion on her policy plans may be found here: [link]

    4) For what it's worth, Mr. Colon is the real deal. He worked hard just to go to college, let alone law school. He loves and depends on his family. He is a goody-two-shoes. He is honest, full of integrity, smart, described by a whole slew of positive adjectives. He is the main reason that we have a completely-Democratic congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.

    Hope that helps get you started. I'd be happy to meet with you and discuss NM politics.

    - Barbara

  • Dearest Barbara  [ Fri Aug 13 2010 10:33 PM ]

    Thank-you for calling me out. It was stuffy in the bunker. I'm not following your numerous links, by the way.

    I liked the old days before the State was a "pay to play state". I liked Roberto Mondragon (Lt. Governor), Carol Miller and Bob Anderson, who ran for Senator and Congressman, respectively. They were Green and stood for integrity in their own ways. Political scandals are the norm in this state as we speak. We are continually de-sensitized to headlines that would otherwise make us riot (Pat-T-Riot) -me. How many times can the State Investment scandal (FOB - Friends of Bill) appear in the Press before your eyeballs simply fall out.

    Dearest Barbara, are you a political operative? If you respond in a demure manner, I won't list here, the top ten transgressions I've followed during the previous eight long years here in the State. Deal??

    Regards

    Mike

 
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