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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Free-Wheeling Conversation With Diane Denish: Part 1

DianeDenish120 This past Friday we had an opportunity to sit down in an informal setting with former Lt. Governor and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate , and hear her in-depth, off-the-cuff thoughts on a wide variety of issues. It was a very satisfying -- and fun -- hour-and-a half-plus of conversation with Diane who, as usual, was all down home, direct and good at both the give and take of the discussion at hand. She spoke her mind, no holds barred.

We hope you'll enjoy sharing the high points of our interview, broken down according to topic. We think it's definitely worth a read. And thanks much, Diane. Any time.

Today, we're providing part 1 of the interview, covering Diane's views on the U.S. Senate race in New Mexico, the Darren White controversy, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, the federal debt ceiling, jobs, fracking and mining. 

Still to come in part 2, Diane discusses the Susana Martinez administration, the congressional races in CD1 and CD2, Democratic messaging and the media. Stay tuned. 


DFNM: You came out relatively early to endorse Hector Balderas in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in New Mexico. Why?

DD: Because I think he can keep the seat for us. I think he can win statewide. I know that he helped me a lot in my campaign for governor, and I believe in that. I don't think there's too much difference on the issues between our Democratic candidates. I, for one, think a Democratic primary is very healthy. I'm the poster girl for that because if there's only one candidate, as there was in the Dem primary for governor, it's much easier for the Republicans and media to continually pick on that candidate.

I think Hector's gonna run a hell of a race. I think there's a craving for Democrats to elect good Hispanics, and I just feel that craving -- and feel we are losing that battle to the Republicans across the country. I think Hector can represent us well. You know, it's harder to be a pro-choice Hispanic Democrat from the north than to be a pro-choice Anglo Dem in the SE heights. It takes a lot of courage and I respect that about Hector.

As for Martin Heinrich, he has been my city councilor and he did a good job. I wish he had stayed and fought to keep the CD1 congressional seat again because I think it's gonna be hard to keep that seat.

I think both Hector and Martin are good campaigners. They're both pretty low key. However, I have to say that I think in their Senate announcement videos, Hector just blew Martin away. I found the imagery in Martin's video confusing, while I think Hector did a good job of just being in front of that camera and saying, "I want to be your US Senator."

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DFNM: Does it bother you that if Martin loses the Senate primary he may well be out of politics for good? He had to give up his congressional seat to run.

DD: He's got plenty of time to come back. People lose races. Look at Tom Udall, who lost for Congress, came back as attorney general and then ran for Congress and won. There will be opportunities down the road for Martin if he should lose the primary or the general.

Politics has changed in a way that's not going to allow people to be in office for 35 years at a stretch, anyway. The pendulum is swinging too rapidly. Senators Bingaman and Domenici held their offices for decades, but I don't believe that will happen anymore.

The recent Citizens United Supreme Court ruling regarding money in politics is a real threat to democracy, and is already changing how we connect and elect people. And the Supreme Court also just ruled against some important aspects of public financing. The court is ruling against the very things that allow you to have a more level playing field in elections. Big outside money can more easily take down a candidate -- even an incumbent.

DFNM: Your endorsement of Hector has prompted some criticism as well as praise, as was evident in comment thread discussions on the DFNM blog. Your response?

I think people who didn't like the endorsement know that it has influence. Some people appreciate that and others don't. But I meant what I said. What we have to do is keep the seat in the long run and -- regardless of who wins -- we have to do that.

I think people might be surprised how much support there really is out there for Hector. Regular people often come up to me and thank me for endorsing him. We went to the Democratic Party SCC meeting, and the buzz was Hector's -- every bit of it. I also did my own anecdotal survey on candidate stickers. I asked people who were wearing Balderas stickers whether someone had just stuck them on them or if they really were supporting Hector. I found out that everyone I asked really was for him -- from Gallup, Las Cruces, everywhere. Hector has been a very active person within the Dem Party for years -- and he and his people had organized well around the SCC meeting. Remember, almost every single one of those people at the SCC meeting will be voting delegates at the pre-primary convention.

I think a Democratic Senate primary will be a healthy thing, and then let the two winners go at it. That gives us a fighting chance -- an opportunity for our candidate to get strong before the general election battles and hone the skills needed to fight it out with the Republican candidate. Our Hispanic base and our base in general are just craving somebody that is gonna stand up to the right wing on many issues.

We need to fight it out. We need to have good honest primaries but, at the end of the day, we're gonna hold onto these seats. I'll be the first person up there working for that. Let's go get 'em.

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DFNM: One unfortunate thing we've seen is a backdrop of bigotry in some parts of the Democratic party on LGBT issues like repealing DOMA and marriage equality. Certain politicos, like Susana Martinez and others, have used that to gain support from so-called conservative Dems. I'm fearful that Hector and others might be tempted to use that tactic to gain additional support, but I certainly hope not. We think it's essential that all Dem candidates speak out about these issues in terms of they're being classic constitutional and civil rights -- not religious -- issues. What's your take?

DD: I don't know where Hector stands on the DOMA stuff. These are questions the candidates need to answer and then people can make up their own minds.

There's been a lot of interference by the church on this issue, and I do give credit to Bill Richardson for really fighting it out. I noticed some commenters on my op-ed piece on Heath Haussamen's blog saying that I am anti-gay. Actually, as lieutenant governor, I provided some tie-breaking votes in the Senate that laid the groundwork for the later fights on domestic partnerships -- on hate crimes and little steps along the way. I have to say that Bill never flinched and he came so close until, at the end of the day, the Archbishop betrayed us rather than staying neutral as he had promised on civil unions.

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(White had not yet resigned when this interview took place.)

DFNM: It can be hard to keep up with all the day-to-day intrigues related to Albuquerque Public Safety Director Darren White’s behavior in response to his wife’s recent one-car accident but it certainly appears to many observers that, at the very least, standard policies were not followed. What’s your take on how this is playing out? Is White right in stating that he’s being crucified by the media? What should happen next?

DD: I don't feel sorry for him. You know, none of us would be treated the way he and his wife were treated. If I'd been stopped in similar circumstances I would have been in handcuffs and on my way to the slammer. I don't mind him showing up at the scene of the accident, but they should have gone thru the procedural stuff in a proper manner.

Darren White has used the media his entire life and now to blame them for doing their job is not really appropriate and it doesn't smell right. It's like there's some real cognitive dissonance in there so I think it needs a full investigation that's truly independent. As for Mayor Richard Berry, I think the he has been absent in his leadership on this issue. He should have immediately suspended White for one thing.

I think Public Safety Director is a natural choice for budget cutting. It's not a necessary position and if you're gong to go cutting budgets that would be a good place to begin. Let the chief of police be the chief of police.

DFNM: Watching the situation play out, one has to wonder, who is runnning the city of Albuquerque?

DD: I know. I think there's a lot yet to unfold and the net will continue to reach wider. Just the fact that one of the policemen involved has hired a lawyer seems to be suspect. There's gong to be a lot of pressure for White to resign and I think he should resign as Public Safety Director, as well as from his appointment by Gov. Susana Martinez to the state's Judicial Standards Commission. Even before this incident, I thought White was too biased to serve on the Commission because he ran campaigns against judges. The appointment was a political payoff by Martinez for his help during her campaign for governor.

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DFNM: What do you think of Mayor Berry's responses during the whole film industry debate?

What response? Many of those jobs are right here in Albuquerque and Mayor Berry should have expressed his hope that they could work something out to keep those jobs growing as they have. They have a film office. But he was absent during the debate and battles.

Berry ought to be joining with the chambers of commerce and retailers on saving the Rail Runner too. After all, the people who ride that Rail Runner come down here and spend money, and many of the people who ride up there live here. The money they save on commuting can be spent in the communities if they use the train every day. I think there are some creative solutions to obtain better financing for the Rail Runner. Berry should be standing up for those, defending Albuquerque's interests instead of putting loyalties to Gov. Martinez first.

He might not want to be at odds with the governor on things like the Rail Runner and film industry tax rebates, but his job is to stand up for the city of Albuquerque and to help the city grow and prosper. He can be very diplomatic guy. He could have used those skills and worked harder to try to protect the city's interests. Unfortunately, he wouldn't speak up -- and that's his job as mayor -- to say we need those jobs.

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DFNM: There’s a lot of anger nationally and locally about this jobless so-called recovery. Many believe too much emphasis has been placed on our debt and not enough on job creation. Do you agree?

DD: I hope the President stays tough and doesn't give in to what amounts to blackmail on the GOP side. I did hear the President this morning -- we do have to have a balanced budget, but first of all we need more revenue generation and jobs. We need to do things like close corporate loopholes. I hear lots of people with lots of money saying they wouldn't mind paying more taxes to help the nation in this downturn.

Small towns are dying. We need a strong infrastructure package, a New Deal approach that really works, and adequate revenues to carry that out. If I were President (ahem), I would call all the heads of the military and say to them, "this $800 billion budget is a dinosaur and I want you to cut it by $400 billion." Draw a line in the sign on any extension of war funding and any tax cuts at all. These are my two things. They know the military budget is a dinosaur, battleships and other outdated stuff we don't need. Post-Cold War, post-911, it's a very different fight. Let's concentrate on that.

Why don't we take some of that money and put it into veterans services? Health care for vets. Health care is an excellent job creator, yet we never seem to look at that. In studies, health care is always the number one job creator. A recent study reports that there are now more Americans -- I think it was 52% -- over 50 years old or whatever for first time in our history. We'd better be paying attention because most of those people are going to live a long time and need care.

Ironically, immigration really isn't an issue anymore because nobody's coming here. There are no jobs.

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DFNM: We were in Dubois, Wyoming recently and fracking was the big issue. Now, Wyoming is a pretty conservative state and yet the state was fighting against it, while the feds -- the BLM and Forest Service -- were for it. These are Obama's agencies. What's going on?

DD: I've heard that the problem is that while Obama has replaced the Bush people at the top of the agencies, Bush appointees are still very active in the bureaucratic levels below the top. Fracking is going to be a huge issue. Obama hasn't done a very good job of getting rid of the previous people in someof these agencies. I have to say that Bruce Babbitt really got on Obama about his timidity in terms of conservation and the environment.

It's crazy. For instance, they're trying to reopen a copper mine in New Mexico -- Copper Flats near Hillsboro -- and they would use two million gallons of water a day in the mining! Hillsboro uses a million a year. People in Sierra County have formed a coalition against the reopening and are trying to figure it out. Fracking and certain other new mining techniques use way too much water, and many operations are poisoning the water tables that provide drinking water to communities. We can't have that.

I recently visited a village in Costa Rica. It was very evident that there is a huge commitment to the environment and conservation that permeates down to ordinary people. It's not just an abstract issue. You can see it in operation among ordinary people in the country. For example, we had a situation where sugar ants were marching in a long line into the house. Their solution was to run a line of honey back out through the window.

They don't use any chemicals. Everybody's garbage is off the ground, neatly packed up. They are very, very careful about water use. They have established many conservation districts. It's not just the big guys who are involved in these effort -- it's happening all through their culture and that's what you want -- everyone working together on a common goal.

DFNM: I think that's what people were craving in the last election -- that we could all do something together to work on our problems. But it just stopped and we're back to the money again. Obama has said he needs $2 billion to run for president.

DD: It frightens me to how much we're spending on campaigns. When my father ran for the U.S. senate in 1972, he raised a million dollars and we thought we had struck the motherlode. We raised more than $8 million in our campaign for governor, and other people spent more than $4 million, which means that $13 million was spent on our campaign alone. My dad is probably is still spinning in his grave about that. He was like a penny pincher compared to how things are done today. And you think of what else could be done with that money at a time when everything's getting cut.

We're never gonna get anyplace on getting the money out of politics until the electronic media get on board. Big campaign spending on TV ads provides a full-time profit-margin for all of them, the networks. The rates are awful, but the local stations will tell you that they would have lost money except for election spending. So they're not going to be out there pushing for reducing spending on campaigns. We have to be the ones to do it.

Photos of Diane Denish on the gubernatorial campaign trail by M.E. Broderick. Click on images for larger versions.

July 20, 2011 at 03:27 PM in 2012 NM Senate Race, City of Albuquerque, Darren White, Democratic Party, Energy, Environment, Hector Balderas, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01) | Permalink


I love these types of intellectual and thought provoking interviews. Too bad she didn't have this strong a voice during the campaign. I bet some independent and Hispanic voters are having "buyers" remorse just about now.

Posted by: 505Dude | Jul 20, 2011 4:23:35 PM

Oh Diane. I love you. Your comments on the lack of leadership from the Mayor on the Film Industry and RailRunner, and other issues facing ABQ are spot on. As are your concerns about the future of politics and our suffering environment. Thanks for your informed and thoughtful responses. You are so wise. And as a Balderas supporter, I must say I am pleased you are on his side. I was imagining your adorable eastern New Mexico drawl while I read your responses. I keep saying you are our queen of hearts.

Posted by: LG | Jul 20, 2011 6:28:06 PM

Too bad the media doesn't give us interviews like this on all the candidates in an election and also people serving in offices. All they seem to want are "gotcha" stories that are nasty in tone. We never get to see how candidates think or get a chance to hear them out for more than a sound bite. Thank you Democracy for New Mexico and Diane Denish too.

Posted by: PG | Jul 21, 2011 8:11:04 AM

Where was this person during the campaign? Hidden at the orders of the campaign people?

Posted by: Sean | Jul 21, 2011 9:29:24 AM

Good job by the interviewer and Denish too. I still don't think she should have endorsed Balderas so early but it was good to hear her reasons. Her views on other things like jobs are really good. The part about cutting military spending IN HALF is the best!

Posted by: MC | Jul 21, 2011 11:46:50 AM

Sounds like the endorsement is pay back for Balderas campaigning for her. She doesn't know what his position is on about DOMA? Why not?

Posted by: Equality Now | Jul 21, 2011 5:44:18 PM

I also think it's a good interview - thanks Barb! This is a much needed breath of fresh air, with all the junk that we've had to put up with lately in the local news. As for the Balderas endorsement, let the Lt. Guv endorse who she pleases! Early or not, elected officials, community leaders, unions, land grants, and others are choosing their side. As far as the specific issues, they'll be time for both candidates to share their views on DOMA, the Dream Act, Education, immigration, the economy, etc. The first few months were all about fundraising (unfortunately) and now that both candidates have proved that they have what it takes to run a US Senate campaign, we'll get to know where they each stand on these very important issues.

Posted by: Javier | Jul 21, 2011 10:28:02 PM

Great interview Diane...well said on your endorsement of Hector!

Posted by: Balderas all the way | Jul 21, 2011 10:28:02 PM

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