Pete Domenici Jr., 50, an environmental lawyer, announced yesterday he would run for the GOP nomination for governor of New Mexico. The announcement comes after several days of rumors and speculation that he would get into the race, and his father and family are apparently fully committed to helping him win the nomination. Mr. Domenici Jr. has never run for public office before and has no managerial experience.
My take: this is a long-shot, and it is exactly the kind of movida that could backfire, creating even more problems for a political party that appears unable to find its voice.
Should Mr. Domenici succeed in winning the primary election he will argue, as he did yesterday, that he can shake up the buddy-buddy system of inside favoritism that appears to have emerged at top levels of the Democratic Party, nurtured and sustained by a larger cadre of enablers spread in key party positions throughout the state. But wait, how can Domenici win his nomination without tapping into the extensive network of buddies of his father? Without political experience, with no political base of his own, is it not likely that his administration would be filled with buddies of Pete Domenici to whom Jr. is indebted? Does the state really want to substitute one network of buddies for another? Even if they were once associated with St. Pete? Exactly whose interests would a Domenici administration favor, and what kinds of persons would be likely to run state government? There might well be good answers to these questions, but Democrats are not likely to jump ship on a wish and a prayer.
The other problem Mr. Domenici faces is the dynasty issue, and this is relevant to both the primary and general elections. The only possible logic for Mr. Domenici to get into the race at this late date is that his father's name will carry the day. The state already has two sons in Congress, Sen. Tom Udall and Ben Ray Lujan. But Udall spent a lengthy apprenticeship in New Mexico, serving as Attorney General and in Congress before stepping up to replace Domenici. And the case of Lujan Jr., if anything, helps Republicans prove the point that dynastic favoritism is alive and well in the Democratic Party. Domenici's appearance as a gubernatorial candidate appears to be a kind of me-too-ism that might not sit well with the electorate. Do we really want New Mexico to be ruled by a small group of dynastic (and privileged) families?
Thirty years ago David King stepped into the Congressional race in Southern New Mexico, when his uncle, Bruce King, was the sitting governor. He had never lived in Southern New Mexico, and it was clear his uncle was pulling the strings for him. But Republicans had not fielded a candidate to run in the primary race against the incumbent, Harold Runnels, who died of lung cancer in August, after the primary election. So King was the only candidate on the ballot. Such was the outrage, however, in the Southern District, that King ended up being the third man in American history to be the only person on the ballot and still lose the race: to write-in candidate Joe Skeen, who occupied that seat until 2002. Southern New Mexico, especially, is not prone to favor dynastic tendencies, and Diane Denish is, after all, from Hobbs New Mexico.
So Pete Jr. may have a hard row to hoe now that he is in the race. Having said all of this, you can never be sure what will happen in politics. It may turn out that Pete Jr. is an exceptionally able candidate, persuasive, sincere, and convincing: the right man at the right time. But given the strength of his primary opponents, Susana, Janice, Doug, and Allen, to say nothing about old-pro Diane, he'd better be damn good.