Typically, after an election, voters turn to broadcasters to find out what happened. This year, speakers had to reach out to voters to find out what happened. A crucial segment of voters ignored the kool-aid offers of the lunatics, the polls, the “telling” – the lies, the political parties and campaign ads, and preferred to look the candidates in the eyes. In most cases, “candidate quality” and common sense have prevailed. After years of goading voters to vote on the darkest fears, this year they voted on a new, more open-ended set of fears: Inflation, prescription drug prices, crime, undemocratic movidas, autonomy in reproductive matters, etc. Enough with transgender and other identity politics, electoral lies, theories of racial superiority and the yearning of some surprising sides for an American Mussolini.
Unlike the rest of the country, the result in New Mexico was not surprising. Democrats retained control of the governor’s office, the legislature, the courts and all elected offices of the state. There were no shifts in the balance of power between the partisan factions. The most intriguing question – whether there would be a moderate challenge to the urban-based progressive faction in the Democratic Party – was quickly settled last Saturday when the Democratic faction nominated progressive Javier Martinez to be Speaker of the House of Representatives without serious opposition. Four years in power, progressives are still responsible for the Roundhouse. When will NM rise from 51st to 49th in education? When can we expect a credible psychiatric system for the state? Will the progressives tighten the legislature’s ethical rules and laws to curb the most corrupt practices in state government? In the next few years, the progressives will own a good chunk of what’s happening here in government. Since most New Mexicans aren’t progressives, the leash they have may not be very long.
Here in El Norte, Joseph Sanchez, a moderate from Alcalde, won the pick for the HD 40, which includes part of the Rio Grande Valley with the east side of the mountains in Mora and San Miguel counties. He is likely to resist the excesses of the progressive agenda and favor dovish politics.
The Republican party in New Mexico is adrift without anchor and without a rudder; Conditions that it has created for itself in recent years by reacting to events instead of acting. As long as it’s out of touch with most New Mexicans except on the East Side, it’s going to be difficult to be anything more than a minor nuisance in state government. This does not bode well for government, which, like capitalism, thrives when competition is a powerful motivator.
Republicans in New Mexico face two major challenges. First, voters this year, like the rest of the country, were unconvinced by the national antics of a party that caters to the steroid-fueled emotions of an increasingly oddball base. When a sympathetic Republican candidate for governor is forced not only to attack his opponent’s record but also to deny that he represents what appears to be an emerging Republican agenda, it becomes difficult to strike a deal with voters. Second, Republican Party leaders must demonstrate that they can put together a serious game during election season and that they understand what is on the minds of most New Mexicans in order to make reasonable arguments for giving them a chance to govern. Individual Republican elected officials are more than capable of performing these duties well, but as a group much energy has been sapped.
Second terms for governors in New Mexico have not gone well since 1992, when a four-year second term was first allowed. Think Big Bill and Susana. In both cases, the details of governance — keeping the morale of state employees high, bringing broadband to small communities, staying in touch with the different regions of the state, reforming broken systems like state personnel or horse racing, or regulation and licensing — gave it all during the post-second term, the temptations of national politics and talking about problems through well-paid mouthpieces rather than going the extra mile to solve them. In that sense, the 2022 elections are a reminder that, ultimately, politics is more about solving problems than blaming others for them.
dr Garcia is a retired politics professor at NMSU. He was also Minister for Higher Education from 2011 to 2015.