Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run one head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at email@example.com.
There has been a lot of talk amongst Republican leadership in recent years about “big tents” – the idea being that the GOP is inclusive and will make room for everyone.
President Trump espoused this in 2016; some of the “fine people” under his tent were the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, alt-rightists, and others who attended the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017. 3 people were killed at the rally and nearly 50 injured.
Narrowly elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy also noted there was plenty of room in the tent in early 2021 after too many of his fellow House members voted against certifying the 2020 Electoral College presidential election results while President Trump’s mob breached the Capitol on January 6. Five people died and nearly 140 were injured in the riot, with about 2,000 rioters storming the Capitol.
Monday, former 2022 New Mexico Republican legislative candidate Solomon Pena was arrested on suspicion of orchestrating and participating in four shootings at the homes of Democratic lawmakers in Albuquerque. He is accused of shooting into the bedroom window of State Senator Linda Lopez’ 10-year-old daughter, who was sleeping in the room at the time.
Widening the tent shouldn’t have a body count.
In each of these cases, Republican leaders made decisions to embrace questionable individuals for support, votes, and even thug muscle in the case of the January 6 riots.
Some votes simply aren’t worth it. Desperation is not a recipe for success. Like the old trope says: You want it bad, you get it bad.
Pena made headlines this summer when it was discovered he had served nearly seven years in prison following a felony burglary conviction. His opponent, longtime incumbent Miguel P. Garcia (D-14), filed a challenge to Pena’s candidacy in district court. 2nd Judicial District Judge Joshua Allison ruled that the law barring felons from holding office was unconstitutional, so Pena remained on the ballot.
(Judge Allison is a Democrat. One might argue this is a rather liberal interpretation of the law. I am certainly not enthusiastic about felons running for public office.)
House District 14 is in the South Valley of Albuquerque, a Democratic stronghold. Rep. Garcia has held the seat since 1997. A credible GOP candidate would have an uphill battle. Pena lost by 48 percentage points, and immediately claimed election fraud on his social media accounts. He also posted photos he claimed were from his trip to the 1/6 rally in Washington.
Police reports say he traveled to the homes of the lawmakers later targeted by the shootings, Democratic Bernalillo County Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Debbie O’Malley, State Representative Javier Martinez (D-11) and State Senator Lopez (D-11) to complain about the election.
One other individual tied to the shooting at Lopez’ home has been arrested. He also happened to have an outstanding warrant and 800 fentanyl pills. Other arrests are anticipated.
Pena had no business on the 2022 ballot. But when the party makes “everyone” welcome, “everyone” comes. A convicted felon with an R after his name is still a convicted felon. Thanks to liberal control of the legislature, Pena was allowed to vote for himself, eliminating at least some awkwardness.
The true irony here is that the original “big tent” speech came from the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan, in the decade when he worked with Barry Goldwater and others to clear the GOP of the far-right extremists of the time. He made the speech in 1967 when he was running for governor of California. Here’s the statement in full context:
The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally is a broad party. There is room in our tent for many views; indeed the divergence of views is one of our strengths. Let no one, however, interpret this to mean compromise of basic philosophy or that we will be all things to all people for political expediency.
Not compromising basic philosophy is pretty straightforward. That means you don’t take in felons as candidates because they register as Republicans. That means you don’t keep George Santos around because you need his vote on the House floor. That means you don’t have your top aides meet with the leaders of the Proud Boys.
It’s basic integrity and morals. It is the rule of law. It’s simple decency.
Is the GOP really worried about losing the anti-democracy, white supremacist, felon vote?
I think it is a base that can be jettisoned. Reagan and Goldwater dumped the McCarthyites and Birchers in the 1960s and won five of six presidential elections from 1968-1992.
Look what we have now. Rioters and racists and conspiracy theorists and felons. And barely a majority in the U.S. House, with a tainted President who couldn’t get a second term.
We must do better, and we can. With integrity, morals, rule of law and simple decency.
This should not be hard, GOP.