Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Governor's AD and the GOP Response

Before we get to the main event, I just needed to share this brief thought:

I still can't bring myself to listen to it, but I did manage to read part of the fact sheet. I heard about the ad before I heard the ad and that was enough for me to know I didn't want to hear it for fear of some adverse allergic reaction, like spontaneous combustion of the head. I heard a portion of the ad the other day and I'm pretty sure I could feel the pressure building in my head. Whoever had the bright idea to run this spot should have their name removed from all checking accounts.

When Democrats in New Mexico start accusing Republicans of running their affairs as if this state were a third world country, it's either a sign of the apocalypse, a deeply perverted sense of humor or an indicator that the checkbook has fallen into the hands of out of touch and overpaid consultants or staff anxious to smell their own smug.

That said, here is a link to the ad, the fact sheet (did you guys photo copy your logo?) and below the Republican Party's Op-Ed response.


Richardson’s Radio Melodrama
By Jonah Cohen

Political language, wrote Orwell, is designed to make lies sound truthful. But Bill Richardson’s current radio ad attacking the Republican Party and Gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl is a lie that doesn’t at all sound truthful.

In the ad, if you haven’t heard it, a haunting voice narrates a creepy story:

A secret meeting … the order is delivered … and the political candidate quietly goes away. Is it the Third World? The Middle East? Eastern Europe? No — it’s the New Mexico Republican Party Central Committee and John Dendahl.

Hearing this, you’d almost think the Republicans had their previous candidate shot and replaced with Tony Soprano.

The truth is there was no “order delivered.” The candidate, J.R. Damron, who “quietly went away,” was so quiet about it that he went straight to the media to tell them what happened. “Damron, a Santa Fe radiologist, insists he wasn’t pressured to leave the race,” recently reported The New Mexican, annoyed at the inaccuracies in Richardson’s radio ad.

“My campaign wasn’t getting enough traction,” Damron told me on the phone yesterday, “and that’s why I wanted to step aside. It was my decision.”

Nevertheless, Richardson’s ad would have you believe a darker, more harrowing idea. The spine-chilling voice of the radio ad continues:

First, John Dendahl sets up a meeting with Republican nominee for governor, J.R. Damron, and his wife. Dendahl tells Damron to pull out of the race. Within days, Damron is gone, and John Dendahl is the Republican candidate for governor. Forget about elections. Forget about the voter. That’s the way John Dendahl wants it, and that’s the way it is.

Actually, that’s not the way it is. But it sounds suspenseful and ghoulish and, although it ignores facts, it is a splendid example of propaganda and character assassination.

The fact is other people, such as former Governors’ Carruthers and Johnson as well as Senator Sue Wilson, were contacted by party leaders before Dendahl to see whether they’d fill the vacancy.

“What people don’t get,” Damron told me, “is that I wanted to be replaced by John [Dendahl]. He was my choice, and that’s why I’m campaigning alongside him now.”

Richardson’s radio ad simply lies when it says that “Dendahl told Damron to pull out” because, not only does Damron deny this claim, it was also never assured that Dendahl would get the nomination he would need by the New Mexico Republican State Central Committee.

Which brings us to another fabrication in the ad, namely, that the Dendahl nomination was somehow undemocratic. The State Central Committee meeting was – to be technical about it – in complete compliance with Section 1-8-8 of The Elections Handbook of New Mexico, which outlines the rules for replacing candidates. To say that this process was undemocratic is to condemn New Mexico election law as undemocratic.

In addition, the 10 day notification rule was followed, which requires announcement of a meeting to committee members. Indeed, the night before the vote, the state Republican Party made courtesy calls to every county chairman telling them that the meeting would include important new business and that all members should be encouraged to attend.

Moreover, at any time during the meeting at which Dendahl was unanimously elected, other people could have been nominated from the floor. In addition, any State Central Committee member could have made the motion to adjourn and reconvene the meeting on another date. No one in attendance chose those options, including many of Dendahl's former political adversaries who were in the crowd.

The truth is no one wanted to enter the gubernatorial race this late in the game. Republicans are thankful to Dendahl for jumping in, even former foes. He’s guaranteed that New Mexicans this November will have a choice with respect to who governs them.

And, in a state such as ours, where one party has controlled the legislature for nearly seventy years, where government corruption is rampant, where tax dollars are frivolously spent, a healthy two-party system offering political choices is just what New Mexico needs. Whatever lies Richardson’s radio ad would have you believe, JR Damron and the Republicans who nominated Dendahl are restoring and championing competitive democracy in our state.


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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Talking Points

John Dendahl wants to know if Governor Richardson is going keep his team of of former journalists and media personalities on the sidelines in the coming months, or if they'll be used in the ultimate power play.

In a letter to Governor Richardson, dated June 20th, Dendahl specifically called out GBR Communications Director, Pahl Shipley and his comments in a June 17th AP article, in which Shipley is quoted as saying:

"The Republican party has chosen a candidate who embraces division and negativity. We welcome the opportunity to hear John Dendahl explain his pro-drug legalization plan throughout the campaign," said Pahl Shipley, a spokesman for Richardson.
Jeff Jones, however, enlightened me today, revealing that those remarks actually came from a press release issued by Shipley. See, I thought that was the just way Shipley talked. I didn't know he actually committed those words to print. Wow, reminds me of another communications specialist who's writing can be faster than their thinking.

But no, according to Jones, this was actually premeditated communications. Pahl banged this one out on his own computer and on his own time (hopefully he spends this time at home) using his emergency supply of official New Mexico Office of the Governor letterhead, fired off what may have been the first shots of the Dendahl / Richardson race to the bottom.

Dendahl, and I think appropriately, asked the Governor to clarify his offices' policy on state workers engaging in political activity, writing:

The purpose of this letter is to inquire into your policies, written or otherwise, guiding conduct of employees of the State of New Mexico with respect to activities in support of your state and national campaigns. If memory serves, Shipley is one of something like two or three dozen former reporters and editorialists now on your public payroll. Your constraining them their activity to bona fide state business seems important at this time.

In view of New Mexicans' deep concern vis-a-vis the ethics of those holding public office, a prompt clarification of this matter by you is in order. Please furnish the information I have requested by return mail, and please let me know if obtaining this information will require a formal request under the Inspection of PUblic Records Act.

But what reason would Damron, I mean Dendahl, have to be concerned about the GBR media arsenal being unleashed on him?

Was Dendahl concerned Shipley's stream of thought press release was actually part of a larger coordinated rapid response effort?

First there was this from Wertheim:

"He is a known obstructionist whose views are outside the mainstream, such as on drug legalization. That's in stark contrast to moving New Mexico forward under Governor Richardson with tax cuts, job creation and health coverage. The candidates could not be in greater contrast."
Which I'm inclined to believe was a written statement and not spoken, but who knows, it could've come from one of his orifices.

Then there were these quotes, spoken I believe, from former Chief of Staff turned part-time Chief of Staff and full-time Campaign Chair, turned paid part-time policy advisor and full time Campaign Chair, turned unpaid part-time policy advisor and full-time Campaign Chair, Dave Contarino, who said:

"For the Republicans to nominate a negative-campaigning partisan in a last-minute political deal strikes me as an act of desperation," said Dave Contarino, Richardson's chief political adviser. "A lot of right-thinking Republicans are going to scratch their heads. Dendahl has been divisive in his own party."
DPNM Executive Director, Matt Farrauto showed restraint, only mildly kicking the downed Damron while in route to the newly designated target Dendahl, telling KOBTV's Todd Dukart:
“it’s hard not to laugh” at the Republican switch.

“They clearly replaced someone who had a low self esteem and was all wrong from the get go, someone who didn’t have any idea what it took to campaign, much less govern,” he said, “with somebody who is all wrong for New Mexico, a guy who’s intolerant, who’s divisive, who’s venomous, and really has not the ability to bring consensus, which is one of the main components of governing.”

Closely echoing the comments of Farrauto, formerly the communications director for the state party before adding Executive Director to his title, were those made in an email statement by his boss, Dem Party Chair, John Wertheim, calling Dendahl "a venomous and divisive radical."

Followed by:

Contarino: "Others have called him a pit bull, and that's a moniker that he's worn proudly for many years," said David Contarino, the governor's chief of staff. "I think the public is as likely to reject a partisan, negative attack dog like Dendahl as they were to reject our previous opponent who had no experience and didn't have any plans for the future.

Wertheim: "The reality, I think, is that most citizens in New Mexico will not take his campaign seriously because he's just out there kind of spouting off," Wertheim said. "We're not going to get involved in that because we've got plenty to talk about with Richardson's accomplishments over the last four years."

Contarino: Richardson's campaign chairman, Dave Contarino, said Wednesday that Dendahl has "made a career out of partisanship and bomb-throwing, negative attacks against Democrats and Republicans alike."

"I think a leopard cannot change his spots," Contarino said. "Like any candidate, Dendahl would prefer that the unpopular aspects of his candidacy not be an issue, but that's going to be up to the voters, not to John Dendahl."

ABQjournal: Dendahl Urges Gov. to Restrain Workers

Link: ABQjournal: Dendahl Urges Gov. to Restrain Workers.

    Republican gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl says a top spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson acted improperly by making political comments on behalf of his boss— and he wants Richardson to clarify what role state-paid workers have in his re-election activities.     But the spokesman, Pahl Shipley, said Wednesday it was "completely appropriate" for him to fire off a news release on state letterhead that in part called Dendahl "a candidate who embraces division and negativity."     Shipley in an e-mail to the Journal said the news release— which he said he did on his own time and on his own computer— was in response to Dendahl's criticism of Richardson's performance. And he called Dendahl's allegation of wrongdoing a "baseless cheap shot."     "It's obvious he is desperate for any kind of media coverage," Shipley said in his e-mail.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Mechanics of Political Puppetry

Joe Monahan, Jeff Jones and Steve Terrell hit the ground running this week, unraveling the yarn spun by Republican power players to explain the replacement of GOP nominee, J.R. Damron, with former party chair John Dendahl. The rapid reporting and insight brought the spinning to a precipitous halt, revealing the motivating factors and actors behind the first autocratically designated gubernatorial nominee for public office.

Almost immediately after Saturday's meeting of the 100 (out of 350 something) Republican State Central Committee members adjourned, players in on the game began pushing their product, trying to sell the press and their own Republican rank and file their version of events. But what was their version of events?

Republican consultant and Wednesday Morning Quarterback, Whitney Cheshire, turned in one of the first accounts, claiming an "individual close to the GOP," had told her "that Damron approached GOP party officials on Wednesday to notify them that he was withdrawing from the race and that he wanted John Dendahl to replace him."

But in an article by Leslie Linthicum that in Sudnay's AbqJournal, GOP Chairman Allen Weh said "Dr. Damron had personal things in his family and in his life that were causing him to be distracted from engaging full time in being a gubernatorial candidate, and I think that's probably the single biggest reason."

On Tuesday the spin came to a halt. Monahan had the nitty gritty on background from his sources and Terrell had it on the record, and from none other than the Damron's, who had had enough.

Joe Monahan: Grumbling about the lack of aggressiveness began before the R's March pre-primary convention

Grumbling about the lack of aggressiveness by Damron began before the R's March pre-primary convention. The Treasurer scandal and news stories popping up hitting the administration of Big Bill were not being touched by the Santa Fe radiologist. Top party figures urged him to start hitting and he said he would. But as the campaign wore on it became clear that he could not or would not. He alluded to this in a statement after bowing out saying the party needed a more aggressive approach. (Read Damron's remarks on Heath Haussamen's blog)

Steve Terrell: Especially hurtful were rumors that the Damrons were having some kind of personal problems

The Damrons in May began hearing rumors that Damron might withdraw. Especially hurtful were rumors that the Damrons were having some kind of personal problems that might force the candidate out of the race. The couple on Monday strongly denied this was the case.

"I kept hearing all this talk that he wasn't being aggressive enough, but when it came to actually challenging Bill Richardson, nobody stepped up to the plate but my husband," Barbara Damron said. "Others were slinking off and hiding under their chairs. I told them, either come do it better yourself, give us money or shut up."

Jeff Jones: they were in full campaign mode as of early last week

The Damrons said Monday they were in full campaign mode as of early last week. But that changed after Dendahl, a longtime friend, telephoned and met with them Wednesday.

Steve Terrell: Dendahl said, he got a call from U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici's chief of staff, Steve Bell, who said (Mickey) Barnett and Domenici had discussed replacing Damron with Dendahl. Bell told Dendahl that Domenici liked the idea.

Dendahl on Monday said he had been hearing talk among Republicans in recent weeks about the possibility of Damron withdrawing.

He said Barnett had called him recently saying there was a "groundswell of support" to field a new candidate -- someone like Dendahl.

Last Tuesday (June 13th, 2006) Dendahl said, he got a call from U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici's chief of staff, Steve Bell, who said (Mickey) Barnett and Domenici had discussed replacing Damron with Dendahl. Bell told Dendahl that Domenici liked the idea.

ABQjournal: Domenici Turns Into 'an Observer'--Jeff Jones

Bell said state party chairman Allen Weh, during a June 13 phone conversation, asked him what Domenici thought of Dendahl as a possible candidate.

Bell said he phoned Dendahl that same day
to ask whether a candidate change was afoot. Bell added he relayed the information to Domenici, who was supportive of Dendahl stepping in.

Jeff Jones: someone else should be on the gubernatorial ticket.

Barbara Damron said Dendahl told them of rumors the Damrons had already heard: that the Damron campaign wasn't "moving along like it should" and that someone else should be on the gubernatorial ticket.
"(Dendahl) said, 'I'm willing to step to the plate,' '' Barbara Damron said.

Steve Terrell: "A physician doesn't relish giving bad news to a patient, or to Bill Richardson, about himself." Wow, now if Damron would just not give his patients bad news at all, he might actually qualify to work for the Governor.

That conversation resulted in an Albuquerque meeting that afternoon. Present were Damron and his wife, Barbara Damron, Dendahl, state Republican chairman Allen Weh, party executive director Marta Kramer and former Republican National Committeeman Mickey Barnett, a longtime Dendahl ally.

By the end of the day, J.R. Damron would be convinced he was not the best candidate for that task.

Barbara Damron noted her husband is a physician. "Doctors are used to giving bad news in a thoughtful manner, holding back," she said. "A physician doesn't relish giving bad news to a patient, or to Bill Richardson, about himself."

President Bush earlier this year nominated Barnett to be a governor of the U.S. Postal Service. Domenici is sponsoring Barnett in the Senate, which must approve the nomination.

Like Dendahl, Barnett has made enemies inside the GOP. He was defeated in 2004 for re-election to his National Committee post by state Rep. George Buffett. Barnett is a lawyer and former state senator who in recent years has worked as a lobbyist at the Legislature. He angered some Republicans when he lobbied for drug-law reforms pushed by former Gov. Gary Johnson.

Alright already, we know how they did it, but why? Well, here's where it gets really interesting.

GOP's gloves come off--Steve Terrell

Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said any candidate would have trouble defeating an incumbent with as much money as Richardson has. "He's already advertising on television," he said.

Because both Richardson and Dendahl have political records, the negative advertising on both sides will be harsh, Sanderoff said. "This race is going to get nasty," he said.

"The big question is whether Dendahl has a commitment for money from the (Republican National Committee)," Sanderoff said. He said Dendahl doesn't have to match Richardson's money, but probably needs about $2 million to run a credible race.

Joe Monahan: you can't emphasize enough the rivalry for top status in New Mexico politics.

"It's not the Republican National Committee that is so concerned about the Governor's race. Pete is. He wants to rough up Bill for several reasons, not the least of which is to reestablish himself as the go-to guy in New Mexico. Richardson has dominated the scene and Domenici and his operatives have tired of it." Offered a Washington R.

The high risk strategy of letting Dendahl take on the Governor was apparently based in the logic that he would rough up Richardson sufficiently to make him damaged goods for any presidential bid, weaken him if a presidential bid did not work out next year and he contemplated running against Domenici in 08', or if Domenici for health reasons or others would be unable to make the 08' race. That could set up a duel with ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Big Bill. Domenici is seen as determined not to let his seat pass to Richardson.

"The Dendahl move covers all the bases, but you can't emphasize enough the rivalry for top status in New Mexico politics. That has been Pete's role, but this Governor has in many ways eased him into the shadows," offered another tapped-in and reliable source.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Weekend the Blogs Took Over

Six months ago, I had a somewhat heated exchange with a political operative who fancies himself something of an online communications expert. The individual, who works for one of our state's more prominent elected officials, and not surprisingly isn't from New Mexico, though neither am I, made a derisive comment regarding the quality of the New Mexico blogsphere. My exact response is hard to recall, but I'm pretty sure it included pointed questioning, such as who asked him, mixed with a dash of profanity followed by awkward silence, which is generally the best kind when trying to get a point across. For a couple of minutes after the individual departed, I almost felt bad for not apologizing for my emotionally charged response. However, after reading coverage of the Damron/Dendahl switch, I'm glad I was able to so easily ignore that brief twinge of remorse.

New Mexico's blogsphere may not be as big as some of those in bordering states, but what we lack in size we more than make up for in quality. While the AbqJournal and the New Mexican delivered the broad outline of events, it was the blogs that had the first hand accounts and other information that filled in the picture of how events unfolded.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Dendahl Chain of Events

Almost immediately after the June 6th primary, GOP candidate for State Auditor, Daniel Alvarez, who ran unopposed for the position, informed his state party that he wanted out. State Election law allows a major party to replace a nominee should one withdraw from the general election race. In the case of a statewide candidate's withdrawal from a general election race, the party's governing body, elected at the precinct, ward and county level, must convene and vote on a replacement. Such a meeting was called for Saturday.

Sometime early last week, Damron contacted the NM GOP to inform them that he too would be dropping out of the contest. Not one to leave his fellow partisans without a champion to cheer for, Damron, had a replacement in mind, former NM GOP Party Chair and fellow Santa Fean, John Dendahl, who he thought would do a better job taking on GBR. (WMQB, Saturday, June 17th)

Heath Haussamen provided the further news enhancement, capturing the entirety of Damron's statement to the 100 Republican SCC members.

“For the good of the state of New Mexico and its citizens, I believe there needs to be a change in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate. Therefore, I have submitted the required Secretary of State form announcing my resignation as the Republican gubernatorial candidate for 2006. (the rest is worthy of a read)

WMQB's described the well executed play as only a player of the game could:

And on the heels of Damron’s announcement, one of the members present voted to nominate John Dendahl to replace him.

The nomination was seconded by Ceil Levatino, the party’s 2nd Vice Chair from Las Cruces New Mexico. Lt Gov candidate and State Senator Sue Wilson Beffort spoke in strong support of Dendahl’s nomination.

The Committee voted unanimously to place Dendahl on the ballot to take on Gov Bill Richardson in November.

Damron and Party Chair Weh either conspired to keep the Doctor's orders secret to ensure a smooth installment of the new nominee, or Weh couldn't find anybody else to take the job. One weh or another, the operation went off without a hitch.

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