Bottom Line for the Valle del Sur: Ella habla perfectamente bien el español y es del Valle del Sur de Albuquerque. The South Valley of Albuquerque is a lot like South Mesilla Valley. I am also told from a solid source she wields a mean gavel in the Senate: Fair but efficient and gets the job done--something important for a Lt. Governor. She is Worth Watching, for sure!
A candidate for Lt. Governor, Sen. Linda Lopez was in town this weekend testing the waters locally. I arranged to sit down with her for a long luncheon at the International Delights. She arrived with her eight-year-old son Lorenzo and Carmie Lynn Toulouse, who introduced herself with a wink as Sen. Lopez's "dueña," which in Spanish means chaperone, or governess. Toulouse is the daughter of the late, great New Mexico attorney James Toulouse, from an old New Mexico family, whose long career--he fought passionately for many good causes, often unpaid--spanned many decades of New Mexico history, enough to warrant putting his papers into an archive for scholarly inspection. Carmie herself is on the governing board of the Central New Mexico Community College. So her presence connected Sen. Lopez and, for a moment, me, to an impressive network of New Mexico history.
I started out with my usual subtle charm, asking Lopez if she thought two women could win the top of the ticket in 2010, since it seems inevitable Diane Denish will get the nomination for the top spot. She replied firmly and with conviction that if Barack Obama could win the presidency this was possible. Only minutes before Lopez arrived I had asked Todd Brazier, a young political junkie (whose judgment is often good) and student of mine I had invited to the the luncheon, the same question and had gotten exactly the same answer. Suddenly I felt out of touch, the way old people sometimes get, and I regretted asking the question.
Lopez is passionate about education, broadly defined, and is clearly outraged by the failures of the system, which consistently gets "F" ratings in national rankings. I had to struggle to keep up with the outrages, one after another, that she rattled off like a jazz player doing riffs: failures to deal with sex education and the consequent social costs, failures in graduation rates and in preparing students for college, failures to tie curricula at all levels to job creation in New Mexico, failures in dealing effectively with parents. Carmie chimed in from time to time with her own outrages. Then Todd Brazier interrupted with his outrages, and I resisted an urge to throw mine in too. Lopez's legislative record reflects this passion: Child Health Care Act, Improved Student Performance Results Act, Professional Development Act for Teachers, School-Based Health Clinics Act, Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Safe Routes to School Program, Child Helmet Safety Act, Fatherhood and Family Strengthening Program.
It was a refreshing to talk for a change to a candidate whose passion for policy trumped the usual game of cautious probings to find where I stood before telling me what I want to hear. I happen to be more into raising average math and reading scores at all levels than I am into safe routes to school or child helmets as policy issues, but I far prefer sincerity in dealing with those issues than the insincerity of someone who will after all is said and done support the status quo of failed schools while talking the good talk to everyone. Bill Richardson was good at posing as the education governor, but school performance has actually declined during his tenure in office, the top two universities have become political nightmares under his mischief, and the mindless education bureaucracy is actually stronger now than it was a decade ago. Make no mistake about it, Lopez cares about these issues.
Lopez is not, however, a one-note samba. She can also talk knowledgeably about the needs of poor communities for infrastructure, and where political resistance to address these needs lies. She supported Tim Jennings, a conservative, for President of the Senate this year when it was not popular to do so, and in spite of dire warnings from liberals about having the votes to beat him and hinting about the punishments that would be meted out should Jennings be defeated. She avoided fawning over the governor, refusing to capitulate to his intimidating tactics, something many of her colleagues in the Senate, (but especially the House) succumbed to. She beat state senator Tom Benavides in the West South Valley, not exactly a place feminists and liberal Democrats from the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque would deign to visit. And she has survived in this seat through four elections. She was also Bernalillo County Democratic Party Chair for a term, an excursion into the strange terrain of party politics in Albuquerque. In short, there is a toughness about this lady that warrants attention. I was personally disappointed with Lopez's cooperation with Majority leader Michael Sanchez's stalling over ethics reform this year (she is Chair of the Rules Committee and froze the legislation), but for all I know there might have been sound public policy reasons for doing so. I did not inquire about this during our conversation, but I will pursue it in the future. Don't underestimate her determination.
I have no idea what will become of her candidacy. Unlike the governorship, which is now all but locked up by Diane Denish long before it should be in this fluid post-Richardson environment, there is no clear favorite for Lt. Governor. It is unclear who will end up filing next March, and even less clear what will sway party insiders to favor one candidate over another in the pre-primary convention process. Very frequently all it takes is a well organized, early campaign, lining up early commitments and then posing as the inevitable winner, which triggers a bandwagon effect. This is the position Denish is in, with lobby groups tripping over themselves to endorse her now (even though they have no clear picture of what she might do for them later) on the mistaken belief that a July '09 endorsement will somehow elicit greater access than a hefty check in July '10. My advice to people is to refrain from supporting any candidate, unless truly committed to that person, until the last minute, after you have heard from all sides.
Clearly, Lopez needs to think more carefully about the role of Lt. Governor for the next few years and hone down her case to occupy that office. She has plenty of time to do so, and I will be watching with interest as she warms up to the campaign. Lopez is worthy of your consideration and you should meet her: unlike many politicians, who want only to become powerful, at least until now Lopez appears also to want to make a difference.