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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Guest Blog by John Wertheim: Tim Jennings' Double Standard on Negative Campaigns

This is an Opinion Editorial by John V. Wertheim, former Chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico:

The 2008 elections brought many surprises to New Mexico: voters delivering handily for Barack Obama, all federal positions now in Democratic hands for the first time in decades, and even additional seats for Democrats in the State Legislature. As a former Democratic chairman, I felt a mixture of pride -- at the ascendancy of important progressive policy ideas -- and awesome responsibility at the shear size of the work ahead of us. Both feelings were welcome, albeit sobering.

Seeing a top Democratic leader campaigning on behalf of a particularly partisan Republican was, however, decidedly unwelcome.

Democratic Senator and President Pro Tem, Tim Jennings, who raised eyebrows by ardently defending the Republican Senate Minority Whip, Leonard Rawson (SD-37, Las Cruces) in the final days of a tight election contest against criticism of Rawson's lrecord, demonstrated an indefensible double standard.

After all, quite a few of Jennings' fellow Democratic candidates this year were falsely accused and roughed up by Republicans during the give-and-take of the election season. But Senator Jennings said not a word in defense of them. What gives here?

I've known Senator Jennings for years and have often admired his principled stances, even when he opposed the Party mainstream. I consider him a friend, and friends should be able to tell each other when they've done something wrong. And make no mistake: it's wrong to apply double standards, especially for purely political motivations.

Fearful of losing his President Pro Tem job to the cadre of new progressive senators coming into the Legislature, Jennings recorded a robo-call and radio spot on behalf of Republican Senator Leonard Rawson, who lost narrowly to progressive Democrat Steve Fischmann.

Jennings, of course, has cut many an amiable deal in the Senate with Republican Rawson over the years. Much of Jennings' power comes from such horse trading. Nothing wrong with that. Politics is just that way a lot of times. But to try to preserve the status quo at all costs, even when the voters don't seem to like the status quo all that much? Well . . . nothing right about that.

The Roswell Democrat says he recorded the robo-call and radio spot only after getting a campaign call at home [interesting: Jennings does not live in the district] that supposedly called Rawson a "crook". The unkind words about "a good man", Rawson, drove Jennings to campaign for his re-election. After being upbraided by the state's Democrat leaders for the unusual action, Jennings expressed pious motives for campaigning for Rawson to the media. Ask whether they're not a little too pious, coming from a seasoned, hard-ball politician like Jennings:

"I have no desire to go against my party or anything else, but I for one believe you should stand up when somebody says something that isn't true... his mother should not have to listen to that crap." [11.03.08, Heath Haussmann blog]

"I look at that as a true attack on democracy. When someone goes out and falsely accuses someone of something, you should stand up." [11.03.08, Green Chile Chatter blog]

"If someone is spreading lies about someone, I'm not going to sit and say, 'Go ahead.'" [11.6.08, the Santa Fe New Mexican]

The mothers of a few New Mexico Democrats cannot be too pleased with the harsh and untrue character attacks made by Republicans on their children, but Senator Jennings - stalwart defender of 'What is True' and of Democracy -- was silent in their cases.

Tim Eichenberg, successful Democratic Senate candidate from Albuquerque, was attacked by Republicans with direct mail that said he was "bankrolled by anti-military extremists", "viciously oppose[d] our men and women in uniform" and that "Tim Eichenberg dishonors our men and women in uniform" - all because he utilized ActBlue, a Democratic online credit card processing platform to raise campaign funds. The mailer featured a grisly-looking photo of a wad of money splashed with fake blood.

Victor Raigoza, Democratic candidate for Senate in Albuquerque this year, was harshly attacked with mail and phones by New Mexico Republicans saying he was a "radical" who wants to "tear down" our state's "wholesome way of life and it's traditional values", and strongly implied he was gay. The piece was widely condemned by civil rights leaders and moderate Republicans.

Rep. Andrew Barreras, Democrat from Tome, N.M., was attacked in this election by Republicans with mail that featured his photo festooned with marijuana leaves, suggesting he was in favor of illegal drugs. With mail and phones, the New Mexico GOP said Barreras promised "policy for a price", "favors for friends", was corrupt and sold his votes in the Legislature to the highest bidder.

Where was Tim Jennings when these good Democrats were "falsely accused", personally maligned and attacked by New Mexico Republicans? He never said a word in defense of any of them.

Oh, and if Jennings tries to say lack of familiarity explains his deafening silence, I know everyone mentioned above very well, including Sen. Rawson, and let me vouch for Messrs. Eichenberg, Raigoza and Barrerras. They're good men, too, and just as deserving of a spirited defense.

Unless it's a anti-progressive Republican named Leonard Rawson - a sure vote for Jennings to remain as President Pro Tem in the 2009 Session – Tim Jennings can't be bothered to stand up for victims of campaign smears.

Another anti-progressive Democrat, State Senator Mary Kay Papen was busy forwarding Jennings' robo call via e-mail to voters in the 37th district.

Obviously, lofty ideals do not lay behind this behind-the-scenes machination.

So here are two questions Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans should ask:

Why are Jennings and Papen so afraid of the progressive agenda that voters embraced in this recent historic election?

Can we count on Tim Jennings to give up his double standards as President Pro Tem of the Senate?

The stakes are high. In just two years, the state legislature will have responsibility for creating a new redistricting plan for all of New Mexico's legislative and congressional electoral boundaries - boundaries that will go far in determining the future of progressive politics in New Mexico for years to come.

This is a guest blog by John V. Wertheim, the former Chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.

If you'd like to submit a post for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.

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November 15, 2008 at 10:20 AM in 2008 NM State Legislature Races, Democratic Party, Guest Blogger, Local Politics | Permalink


Can't agree with you more.

Posted by: Old Dem | Nov 15, 2008 10:40:21 AM

So, now we have to worry about covert Republican ringers hiding amongst our Democrats in office. Perhaps they are just ringers for the "rich peoples" interests against the common good.
We have to be vigilant for possible ideological traitors who are loyal to themselves in the true Republican tradition of short-sighted avarice at the expense of regular working people. I hope that their records will be exposed at election time so we can get some more progressives in there.
Then, when the progressive get complacent and corrupt we can kick them out too.

Posted by: qofdisks | Nov 15, 2008 2:25:32 PM

We need help to oust jennings in 4 years. We need a cantidate who will work hard. I know he can be beat in a primary. I am tired this so called democrat/ We need help down here, there is no one to run agaist him. Someone please move to Roswell and run agaist him.

Posted by: Rick | Nov 15, 2008 5:41:46 PM

Haven't we had enough of ideologues. To say that we should excommunicate someone from the Democratic party is to play the same card as the repugnants have played for the last 28 years. The litmus test should be intellectual honesty and governmental fortitude. The problem with the demagogue and the ideologue is that they ignore the facts and sashay their way towards oblivion without a care in the world.
If Mr Jennings wishes to communicate to the world that it's him first and the rest of us, and the facts be damned, then I thank him for that, as it will make my decision as to who to support when he is up for re-election very easy.
I have had it with say anything, immature, dishonest, politics before policy, greed before governance attitudes. It is time for adult supervision.

Posted by: Paul | Nov 16, 2008 1:23:10 PM

Sorry Paul. If Jennings wants to be an independent or closet Republican he needs to run as one so voters know where he stands.

Despite that no-one is telling him to leave the Democratic Party. What we are saying is that he cannot continue to hold a leadership position in the Party at the Legislature. If he is making radio and robocalls for the likes of Leonard Rawson, he is not to be trusted or believed.

Everyone knows Rawson was wrong to get an appropriation to pave a road by one of his business interests OUTSIDE HIS DISTRICT. That reeks of cronyism and is the kind of thing that must stop. I am pleased Rawson is gone.

We need Democratic leaders in the Legislature who are real Democrats and dedicated to Democratic principles and values not people who base their decisions on their connections in the good ol' boy network and trying to keep their power so they can fight against Democratic principles and values expresssed in bills.

Jennings and his style of "doing business" should be abandoned in favor of someone who will back the reforms and programs we need and lead Democrats in achieving them. Jennings took his pleasure from blocking changes we need. Enough is enough.

Posted by: MT | Nov 17, 2008 8:50:15 AM

I have never been terribly fond of Jennings and the Southeast New Mexico point of views his electorate insists upon, but I do think his INITIAL intentions were honorable in doing what he did. It backfired, of course, and will lead to his demise as Pro Tem.

Interesting that the other gripe from Bill Richardson, that Jennings had sent out warnings to NM School superintendents about layoffs coming and advising them not to hire teachers, was later backed up by wonks at the DFA, and I believe also at the Department of Education.

Politics is rife with well intentioned actions backfiring because they are misinterpreted and/or systematically twisted by the media, for example: Howard Dean's yell in Iowa.

As a Democrat, I understand some of the clamour over Jenning's robo-call. I am just saying his original intentions were honorable and understandable.

Posted by: Stephen Fox | Nov 17, 2008 9:19:15 AM

Rick writes,
"If Mr Jennings wishes to communicate to the world that it's him first and the rest of us, and the facts be damned..."

Actually, seems to me that Wertheim is the one that is not stating the facts. Like, WHO authorized the push poll? I doubt that Fischmann did. Any Democrat should condemn such a nasty tactic.

And just what did the poll say, and just what did Jennings' robocall say? Who knows? Not me.

Hopefully dfnm will publish my full comments on this in the next day or so (I started out with a comment, but it got too long, so I submitted it as a guest blog a few minutes ago.)

Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Nov 17, 2008 10:15:53 AM

Ellen-the fact is that there is no proof that Jennings got any such push poll or call. He "can't remember" who he got the call from but he has stated publicly that it was some "environmental group." Jennings doesn't live in the district where Rawson was running so why would he get such a call? Come now.

I don't think Jennings said it was a push poll anyway. I remember he said it was a call suggesting Rawson is a crook. What was the exact wording? Jennings never said.

You know as well as I do that politicians don't step up and criticize calls against the opposition that they haven't even heard. That is crazy.

Mr. Fox: I don't know why you believe that Jennings had "good intentions" in making a radio ad and robocall for Rawson. Where are you getting that from? If Jennings wanted to call attention to the call and state he didn't like it, he could have gone to the media. That might have been appropriate but making an ad and call to support the other party's candidate is beyond the pale.

Posted by: Crazy stuff | Nov 17, 2008 10:43:23 AM

This is more of the fight between entrenched Democrats and Rs who want to protect the status quo and those who want to reform the ethics and campaign finance system. Jennings and Rawson are on the side of keeping things as they are to protect the power network that keeps stopping reform. They need to be moved out of the way or defeated in elections as Rawson was.

Posted by: progressive dem | Nov 17, 2008 10:49:00 AM

I can't explain to you what seems obvious to me. I know that the best Pro Tems I have ever known were collegial, like Ben Altamirano and Richard Romero. and I could see them, at least Benny for sure, doing something like Jennings did.

Senator Stephen Fischmann will be really excellent, I can assure you, as I am sure will also be Senator Tim Keller, Senator John Sapien, Senator George Munoz, Senator Eichenberg, and Senator Eric Griego.

I always found Rawson to be difficult, but never once considered him a thief or crook; I think he was generally echoing his aggregate constitutuents' values, and they are much more conservative than most of New Mexico, after all. I know nothing about the paving issue whatsoever...

Sometimes statesmen do things like Tim Jennings did, at much higher levels, and they are lauded for it, maybe even like Lincoln picking opponents for his Cabinet, etc.

I am a progressive Democrat; I want to see Senator Ortiz y Pino as Pro Tem, personally, which is a long shot at best, what with the massive allegiance and adherents to "Seniority" that we observe in the NM Senate.

I wrote 'GOOD INTENTIONS' because I know that Jennings is old homeboy from ranching background, and I could see him reaching the extra mile, except it blew up in his face and maybe his actions were kind of stupid enough to lead to getting the axe as ProTem; I doubt he can even go back to being Finance Chair, under these circumstances.

Sometimes soldiers do such things to rescue their downed colleague, and sometimes they get their heads blown off for their troubles.

I know Tim has been through hell with his wife's cancer, and the senate has always been very collegial about such things, like Republicans praying for his wife's recovery, etc.

Final point: sometimes legislators can be very good friends, and yet represent two diametrically opposed political extremes, for example: Dan Foley, the ultra right guy from Roswell, and the present Majority Leader, Ken Martinez, were best of friends and their families hung out together, etc.

Sorry to go against the political tide a little bit on this precise question of Jennings, etc., but I frequently go against the tide of prevailing political opinion! Check out our next issue of THE NEW MEXICO SUN NEWS. We are devoting it to the NEW LEGISLATURE, with major articles written by several of the new members of the Senate.

Stephen Fox
Contributing Editor
New Mexico Sun News

Posted by: Stephen Fox | Nov 17, 2008 5:11:47 PM

This misreported notion of a "push poll" needs to be put to rest. Conservation Voters NM Action Fund conducted a live persuasion ID phone program in SD 37 as part of our PAC voter contact program, and our script DID NOT contain the word alleged by Senator Jennings. If the voter said they were undecided or could change their mind about which candidate they would support, we DID point out that Rawson had used capital outlay (as reported in the LC Sun) to pave a road outside of his district and clear across town in front of his family business. In contrast, we stated that Steve Fischmann will work for ordinary New Mexicans that live in his District and will work to create new jobs in the renewable energy sector. I don't believe these are "dirty tactics". Voters deserve to know these distinctions and they spoke clearly on election day in favor of Steve Fischmann. BTW, we've reviewed our universe of phone numbers and can't find Senator Jennings published home phone number in Chaves county nor anyone with the last name Jennings in our phone program universe, so its unclear to us how he supposedly received our call outside of the district....Sandy Buffett, CVNM Action Fund

Posted by: Sandy B. | Nov 18, 2008 1:41:58 PM

I was listening to a local radio station here in Hobbs this morning and heard a news broadcast stating that senator Jennings is speaking out against cage fighting and comparing it to dog fighting and cock fighting. I just want to express my opinion on this topic. I in no way find cage fighting comparative to cock or dog fighting. We as humans are blessed with the mental capacity to make our own decisions and as such a fighter can make his own decision as to whether he steps in the cage or not wherefore an animal has no such choice. I have never been to a cage fight but see nothing wrong with it. There are many other violent sports i.e. boxing, rodeo, hockey, football etc. Is he planning on banning all these sports as well? I am not sure where senator Jennings' district is but I hope it is nowhere near Hobbs as I would never vote for such a person. I work in the legal field and there are many worse problems out there than cage fighting.

Posted by: Stacey Crawford | Feb 25, 2009 9:44:58 AM