Party Games

Could Mayor Marty Switch Sides?

Jerry Ortiz y Pino
5 min read
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The primaries are behind us now and the political machinery is beginning to whir noisily in anticipation of the general election in November. I have to tell you, though, I am far more intrigued by the prospects emerging from the mists for the next gubernatorial election, the one four years away.

That’ll be the first election after Bill Richardson leaves the ring as undefeated (and largely untested) heavyweight champ.

I can’t stop mulling over something about that race. It’s stuck in my mind and no amount of reasoning or ridicule has managed to dislodge it, so I’ll just commit it to paper and see if that produces relief. Marty Chavez is running for governor in 2010. And he might actually wind up being the
Republican on the ballot.

There it is. Laugh if you will. I have already been hooted at by more than a few political know-it-alls for thinking up this nugget, so your derision won’t hurt much. But before you start making those circular motions with your finger next to your temple, hear me out.
Then you can smirk.

There are several reasons why this could
not happen, and we’ll get back to them. But for now, indulge me in pointing out several big reasons why this may not be beyond credibility.

First, the Republicans’ pool of potential candidates is shallower than my granddaughter’s inflatable wading pool. Second, as a candidate for governor, Marty could have stronger support in a Republican primary than he would in a Democratic primary.

Let’s face it: Bright young Democratic men and women often grow up hoping to be governor or president someday. Bright young Republicans more often dream of corporate leadership and of chairing the board of Fortune 500 companies.

The consequence is that Republican primaries are rarely contested and Democratic ones are often crowded (take this week’s primary election as an example). The GOP has to recruit candidates for statewide office. The Democrats have to cull the herd.

That explains why the last four Republican candidates for governor (Gary Johnson twice; John Sanchez and now Dr. J.R. Damron) all essentially got into the race as
businessmen , not governmental figures. There just aren’t many Republican governmental figures in New Mexico with the statewide name recognition to mount a race with a realistic chance of success.

Old-time Republican leaders might initially resist Martin Chavez as the party nominee. But they want to win, too (at least occasionally). Chavez is a brilliant campaigner and fundraiser. He could get elected as a Republican.

Since he has shown during his three terms as mayor of the state’s largest city that he is ideologically indistinguishable from a Republican–pro-development, a tax-cutter, a good friend of the Chamber of Commerce and not the ACLU–it shouldn’t take too much persuading for the party pooh-bahs to accept him into the fold with open arms.

There are many precedents for New Mexico Democrats crossing over to find more hospitable surroundings. The current Republican candidate for secretary of state and several GOP legislators were Democrats at earlier points in their lives. The Republican who represents the southeastern part of the state on the PRC was once a Dem. Such an action might raise a few eyebrows but is far from unthinkable.

If the Republicans have some other viable candidates in 2010, this scenario probably isn’t likely. Nor would it be if Chavez figured he could win the Democratic nomination.

But current Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is well-positioned to make a run for the office, and she’ll be a formidable opponent … probably tougher to beat in a primary battle for the Democratic nomination than if Chavez ran against her in the general as a Republican.

He certainly would have no problem raising substantial amounts of campaign money from Republican supporters as he demonstrated during his mayoral campaign. He has lots of business backers and, as a group, they rarely allow their judgment about their self-interest to be swayed by something as transitory as party labels.

As I noted above, there are a great many reasons why this prospect may not ever take shape. Chavez is a life-long Democrat and is proud of his role in prodding the party toward aligning itself more squarely with business interests. He has carved a niche for himself nationally as a moderate voice among the Democrats and especially among Hispanic Democrats, who typically tend to be more conservative than liberal.

It would not be easy for him to jump ship in the fashion I’ve described. It would not be a decision taken lightly. Yet the mayor is most essentially a pragmatist, one more interested in outcomes than in ideology. If, when he weighs the pros and cons of the situation, he decides the straightest road to the governor’s mansion is as a Republican, that’s the path he’ll take.

If he doesn’t, it means he believes he can get there faster as a Democrat. Either way, it’s the destination he’s focused on; which horse he rides is incidental.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail

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