I can’t deny that I am concerned and upset over the 2020 New Mexico primary results. Not over the national races, which went about as expected, and I think are fairly predictable going into November: CD1, CD3 and the open Senate seat will stay blue, and there is fighting chance for the GOP to take back CD2 in what promises to be a very expensive slug-fest.
It’s the Legislature that has me worried. And not about red-flag laws, or abortion, or immigration. I am terrified for economy and the state budget. We don’t have enough money to pay for the current fiscal year, which ends in 3½ weeks. We absolutely don’t have enough to cover the fiscal year 2021 budget that starts on July 1. Oil prices are still far lower than they were when the budget was crafted, and unemployment has doubled. The special session scheduled at the unbelievably late date of June 18 will be making some serious cuts.
Fiscal year 2022, to be budgeted in January 2021, is equally ominous. It is unlikely that oil and gas will rebound to the previous year’s levels, and many businesses have permanently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Revenues are not going to increase appreciably in the next seven months and they are bottomed out now.
Back to the primary: The defeat of four out of five pro-business Senate Democrats potentially opens the valve on New Mexico’s permanent funds. Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith of Deming built coalitions and consolidated power over three decades in the Senate based on fiscal responsibility, successfully defeating attempt after attempt to raid the permanent land grant fund. With his primary defeat, and those of Clemente Sanchez of Ojo Caliente, Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Richard Martinez of Española (who wasn’t helped by a December DUI conviction), and Gabriel Ramos of Silver City, it seems likely that progressive Democrats will lead the caucus.
So we have to look to Republicans and Libertarians to pull out a win and gain seats to have any hope for a responsible budget. It’s an uphill battle. The GOP has never held a majority in either chamber except for a two-year period in the House starting in 2014. And a lot of that is due to near constant infighting for the last couple decades. I have joked often that I need an Excel spreadsheet with weekly updates to keep track of who hates whom in the NM GOP. This has to stop (present company included). It seems the warring factions are less interested in getting more Republicans in the Legislature, and far more focused with controlling what elected Republicans remain.
Well, the defeat of John Arthur Smith means Republicans (and Libertarians) have to get some seats—they can’t maintain shrinking fiefdoms and count on Senator Smith to save the budget at the end.
Progressive groups collaborated, supported candidates and pushed back ruthlessly at pro-business Democrats in the legislative primary races. Republicans seem to have the ruthlessness down but definitely lack the collaboration. Another potential pitfall is the tendencies of GOP primaries to push far right and then struggle to return to the center by the general election. Here is my completely unsolicited advice to Republican and Libertarian legislative candidates: to win the general election you cannot focus solely on loyalty to the President, Roe v. Wade and the Second Amendment. You just can’t. It didn’t work in 2018 and it won’t in 2020.
Moderates and independents, whom you must bring to the polls, want to hear real plans for the emergent problems facing our state (oil crash, COVID) against a backdrop of chronic problems that have plagued us for years (corruption, crime, education). This means you need a cohesive plan aligned among your candidates for the state budget, economic development, education and public safety. You know, a platform, preferably updated this spring.
I know I have been hard on conservative leadership this year. A journalist I admire greatly responded to one of my Facebook rants this week about the state of the GOP by saying, “You seem to have surrendered.” I heard you, Dennis. While I don’t yet have the stomach to present myself as a candidate any time soon, I can, and will, focus less on bitching about conservative political foibles and instead try to offer real advice, information and solutions for our state. Stay with me. It’s going to be a helluva fall.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. A registered Republican since 1988, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat.