Alibi Flashback: Marty Chavez Vs. Gary Johnson

Or, “Nasty Vs. Flaky”

13 min read
Alibi Flashback: Marty Chavez vs. Gary Johnson
V.7 No.42 • October 21-27, 1998
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We were reminiscing about the good old days when New Mexico’s Republican governor granted interviews with the Weekly Alibi.

We’ve talked to Gov. Susana Martinez’ spokesperson plenty and read all his canned, emailed responses to questions. But we’ve never had a heart-to-heart with the guv. Still holding out hope, though. In this 1998 piece, former News Editor Dennis Domrzalski compares candidates for New Mexico’s top job: Martin Chavez and incumbent Gary Johnson. Domrzalski describes Johnson as a little rough around the edges, lacking in slickness.

In contrast,
today’s news editor, Marisa Demarco, interviewed Johnson who’ll be on the ballot for president in all 50 states as the Libertarian candidate. Looks like he learned something over the years.

“Nasty vs. Flaky”

by Dennis Domrzalski

One would be a dog, the other an eagle. One believes fiercely in government, the other distrusts it. One wants to send kids to kindergarten all day, the other wants to cut the state income tax.

Although Martin Chavez and Gov. Gary Johnson at times have sounded like each other during this year’s gubernatorial campaign, the differences between the two are as stark as the ones between the animals they see themselves as.

Chavez would be a charming, eager-to-serve Golden Labrador, while Johnson sees himself as an eagle. Chavez, sounding much like a Republican, has said repeatedly during the campaign that government can’t solve every problem, that the private sector creates jobs and that environmental extremists have hurt economic development efforts in Mora in Northern New Mexico. He believes in making prison inmates serve 85 percent of their sentences instead of being eligible for gobs of good-time as they currently are.

Johnson, sounding like a Democrat, has made a big deal about his support for education, saying he’s helped increase education funding in the state by $300 million in the past few years. He rides a bicycle and picks up trash from the sides of highways, exercises regularly and says that “what’s good for Mora is good for the rest of the state.”

But those brief sentences and short sound bites are where the similarities between the two men who want to be governor end.

They oppose each other on the issues of tax reduction, school vouchers and charter schools, hate crimes, economic development, gambling and the role of government in peoples’ lives. And although both men are intense, enthusiastic and even stubborn campaigners, their styles differ greatly. During a recent, televised debate between the two, Chavez seemed like Mr. Nasty, constantly criticizing and attacking his opponent. Johnson could have been dubbed Mr. Flaky. He participates in debates like 12-year-olds play soccer—acting spacy in the first half and snapping out of it only after the opposition scores points.

Although style does matter in this era of TV and sound bites, it is the style combined with the substance that makes the two candidates so different.

The Eagle

As he did four years ago, Johnson, 45, is billing himself as a non-politician who has the interests of real people and not political insiders in mind. He will never be accused of being slick or polished. At times he fumbles for words, seems inarticulate and uninformed on some subjects. But what he lacks in polish, Johnson, a North Dakota native who moved to New Mexico at age 13, makes up in pure enthusiasm and an almost boyish honesty. During a recent taping this year of the Dyson & Company weekly talk show on KOB-TV, Channel 4, Johnson, in a very unpolitician-like way, spread his arms and pretended to flap them like a wounded duck. It is Johnson’s unpretentiousness that endears him to some people. The talk about Johnson is that what is before you is what you get. No ulterior motives. No slickster.

It is Johnson’s politics that has confounded both Democrats and Republicans. In four years he has repeatedly challenged the state legislature and the state Supreme Court in power struggles with the different branches of government. Political insiders often remark disdainfully that Johnson is more of a Libertarian than a Republican or a Democrat.

Johnson has complied a record during his four years in office. He signed controversial gambling compacts with the state’s gaming tribes, brought managed care to the Medicaid program, built private prisons, cut the number of state employees and pushed through a welfare reform program.

Chavez has criticized Johnson for signing the compacts. He says that Indian gambling has hurt business in Albuquerque and elsewhere in the state.

But Johnson doesn’t apologize for the compacts. He says he legitimized something that had been going on for years.

“Well, this is our 14th year now of gambling in New Mexico,” Johnson said recently. “I think it’s important to point out what I have done. When I ran for office four years ago I said that I was going to negotiate and sign compacts with the Indians and I was elected. Maybe no one was listening to what I was saying four years ago. All of the games that are being played today, roulette, cards, all of those games were being played before my election. So what I said four years ago and what I say today is ‘I don’t think Indian gambling is going to go away. Let’s regulate it. Let’s share in the revenues.’ On the plus side, you have arguably the poorest areas of the state, the pueblos and the tribes, that now have a purse for the first time.

“None of the money from Indian gambling goes into individual pockets, that isn’t true in that they do hold jobs within the casinos, but the profits go into tribal programs, into health care, community centers, scholarships, so you are seeing that that is the plus side.”

Johnson supported a bill in the past legislative session that cut the state’s top income tax rate from 8.6 to 8.2 percent. He wants to cut that rate down to 3.5 percent over three years. It’s that tax cut that Johnson says is the key to economic development and pulling the state up from its rank as the poorest state in the nation. How will a tax cut create jobs?

“Very quickly, Intel,” Johnson said. “They bring thousands and thousands of jobs to New Mexico. Why is their corporation not headquartered in New Mexico? Well in a heartbeat, it is the income tax, the 8.2 percent rate. You know, we’ve got America On Line that comes here and sets up. But their highest paying jobs are not in New Mexico. They leave those somewhere else. They leave their corporate headquarters somewhere else because of the income tax.”

To illustrate his point, Johnson said that Hughes Helicopter was recently looking to locate a manufacturing plant just over the border in Texas. When someone came to him and asked what New Mexico should do to get those jobs into this state, Johnson said he responded:

“With an 8.2 percent income tax rate, why is a $100,000 job going to come to New Mexico when in Texas they pay no income tax on that?”

New Mexico’s tax would equate to a $8,200 tax bill on a $100,000 salary, Johnson said. If given the choice, a company would prefer to see its employees put that $8,200 toward a new car or a new house or for their childrens’ education.

Johnson differs from Chavez on other issues. He believes that New Mexicans should be allowed to carry concealed weapons so long as they have taken firearms safety courses. He opposes hate crimes laws, saying that the idea borders on government regulation of thought. Johnson favors school vouchers and more charter schools. He says that bringing competition into education will mean better teachers and better schools. Johnson also favors opening up the state’s electric industry to competition.

The Labrador

Chavez, 46, is a politician. And he doesn’t apologize for it. During a debate, Chavez, a New Mexican native and former Albuquerque mayor, chided Johnson for calling himself a non-politician. Chavez said Johnson insulted New Mexicans by saying that.

Chavez is slick. He is rarely at a loss for words and seems always to have an answer and a program for every problem. As Albuquerque mayor from December 1993 to December 1997, Chavez set a whirlwind pace that was a 180-degree turn from his predecessor, Louis Saavedra.

Holding what seemed to be a news conference a week, Chavez, as mayor, took solid, middle-class positions when it came to crime. He formed an anti-graffiti unit at City Hall that has all but eliminated graffiti in the city. He challenged gangs and had the police department saturate the Barelas and Old Town neighborhoods in an attempt to fight gang activity. He backed a curfew law that was declared unconstitutional, gave cops a whopping 15 percent pay raise, tried to prevent the opening of an all-nude club Downtown and tried to hire more cops.

On the water front, Chavez was a middle-of-the-road conservationist. He supported a voluntary water conservation program in the city with the aim of reducing per-capita water consumption by 30 percent. Chavez’s critics wanted a mandatory water conservation program.

And Chavez angered conservationists when he pushed for and built the Montaño Bridge in the North Valley. It was during the bridge battle and during a controversy over overcrowding at the City/County Jail that Chavez’s “don’t get in my way” style of governing became evident.

When the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque continued to fight Montaño in court, Chavez threatened to counter sue and make the village pay the City of Albuquerque’s legal fees in the case. Bridge opponents and Chavez’s critics proclaimed Chavez guilty of using bullying tactics.

In the jail crisis, a federal court judge capped the jail population and ordered the city to release prisoners who couldn’t fit in the jail. But Chavez junked the release plan and instead chose to build a new, $4 million temporary jail on the West Side. Trouble is, Chavez didn’t consult any of the Bernalillo County Commissioners on the matter. The commissioners were angry, since the county and the city jointly operate and maintain the jail.

Although he implemented a water conservation program for the city, Chavez backed the idea of extending Paseo del Norte through the Petroglyph National Monument.

Much like Johnson stands by his decision to sign the gambling compacts, Chavez defends his support of Paseo and of Montaño.

“I’m proud of what I did. Had that bridge been proposed in the South Valley it would have been built 30 years ago,” Chavez said. “That was never an environmental issue. That was just the issue of an affluent neighborhood that didn’t want a bridge in their back yard. I never faulted them for not wanting a bridge in their back yard. I wouldn’t want one in my back yard. But at some point the collective good has to prevail over the individual needs.

“On Paseo, the long answer, I think as mayor, it’s not what happens this year or next year, although you have to pay attention to those things, what is your community going to be like 50 years from now, 100 years from now? You need a long-term perspective. Assuming we do everything right in the city of Albuquerque, that we all took the bus to work this morning, we bicycle, we carpool, whatever it may be … if we did everything right we will still continue to grow and there is only one place we are going to grow, we are going to grow out to the Rio Puerco. You can’t have a city that size with only one east-west arterial. You have to have at least two.

“As a state senator I appropriated the majority of the state’s money to create that national monument. I got the money because I believed in that monument. Everybody agreed. They all agreed on the road. There was no disagreement. Some put it in writing, some didn’t. But I walked with them and talked with them and we worked together on this thing. Had there been even an inkling that there was a disagreement, that would have gone into the legislation.”

Chavez is stressing education in his gubernatorial campaign. He wants full-day kindergarten, student/teacher ratios of one teacher for every 15 students in grades 1-2, and higher teacher pay. He says the one-time cost of his kindergarten proposal is $60, with recurring costs totaling $40 every year. Chavez says that education, and not a tax cut, is the key to promoting economic development.

“What’s happening now is that kids aren’t learning to read and write properly, so around the fifth or sixth grade, it starts to disconnect and they’re not keeping up with all of the subjects. And I think it’s one of the biggest reasons why we have such a high dropout rate,” Chavez said.

“The problem is not that rich people pay too much in taxes. It’s the quality of the workforce. It’s all about work force development and the problem they’re having is with fundamentals. People don’t read. People don’t write … and it’s a huge problem in New Mexico today. So yes, education is intimately associated with the creation of wealth.”

Chavez does not support school vouchers, private prisons, gambling or the right to carry concealed weapons. He believes that vouchers will destroy the public school system. Like Johnson, Chavez supports the deregulation of the state’s electric industry. As mayor, he asked the state’s Public Utility Commission to approve a pilot electric competition program in Albuquerque.

Chavez said he believes that government is about “the solving of problems collectively instead of individually.

“If you leave air quality up to the individual in the free market, air wouldn’t get clean until you had totally destroyed the environment,” Chavez said. “It wouldn’t get clean until there was a profit in it.”
Alibi Flashback: Marty Chavez vs. Gary Johnson

David Lineberger

Alibi Flashback: Marty Chavez vs. Gary Johnson

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