Gizzi on Politics Oct. 19, 2009

Does October Albuquerque Result Spell November National Trend?  

“Officially, Albuquerque, N.M., city elections are non-partisan,” former Albuquerque Mayor (1977-81) David Dean Rusk explained to me recently, “and, in my experience, there isn’t a ‘Democratic way’ or a ‘Republican way’ of confronting the challenges that face city governments.”  

Fair enough. Rusk, son of late Secretary of State (1960-68) Dean Rusk, was a Democrat but, like all city officials, he was elected mayor in a race without party labels. The race last week that made R.J. Berry the new mayor of Albuquerque was no exception. But there is a strong argument that, despite the lack of party identification on the ballot, in choosing conservative Republican State Rep. Berry over Democratic two-term Mayor Martin Chavez and Democratic former State Senate President Richard Romero, Albuquerque voters knew very well the party affiliations of the mayoral candidates.  

“The election was totally non-partisan, but you could say the vote was partisan,” said Eddie Mahe, nationally known political consultant who got his start as executive director of the Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) Republican Party and then served as executive director of the state GOP in the Land of Enchantment. Mahe noted that the Albuquerque Journal “beat Berry up” for his supporters’ using the phone banks at the local Republican headquarters to turn out reliable voters. The Berry campaign also focused its mailings on Republican voters and those whose voter preference was listed as “Declined to State.”  

But many consider the pivotal issue that brought Chavez down was what Mahe dubbed “that goofy street-car proposal of his.” The mayor had sought a street-car system for downtown Albuquerque not unlike that in other big cities. The problem in this city was that the proposed system would cost taxpayers more than $100 million and, according to various studies, would appeal to few commuters other than college students at the University of New Mexico, most of whom live downtown near the campus.  

Berry hit this hard. Along with blasting the street-car proposal, Berry took a hard-line stand against any new taxes or tax increases. In the end, he won with slightly more than 40% of the vote — or just enough to avoid a run-off.  

This was certainly a “big-city” election. With 525,000 citizens, Albuquerque is more populous than Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Buffalo, Newark, Minneapolis or Portland, Ore. In the next decade, it could easily pass Boston, Washington, D.C., and Denver in population. Much like the Republican candidates for governor this year in New Jersey and Virginia, R.J. Berry ran on the issues of less spending and no new taxes, stands that obviously resonated with voters. We’ll know soon enough whether Albuquerque in October is a sign of things to come elsewhere in November,  

Is It ‘Tarkanian Time’ In Nevada?

For only the second time in 58 years, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate is on the political ropes. Mean-tempered Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), who is seeking his fifth term next year, would lose to either of his best-known Republican opponents if the election were held today. According to a just-completed Mason Dixon poll, former State GOP Chairman Sue Lowden would defeat Reid among all likely voters in the Silver State by 49% to 43%. The same survey showed real estate developer and fellow GOP hopeful Danny Tarkanian beating Reid by 48% to 43%.  

The apparently good chances of deposing Reid, a fixture in Nevada politics since he was elected lieutenant governor at age 30 in 1970, have focused increasing attention on the Republican nomination battle. For weeks, it appeared that Lowden, a performer in Bob Hope’s USO tours in the 1960s, was the big favorite to take on Reid. But in recent weeks conservative eyebrows have been raised over some of Lowden’s past stands and the momentum has been shifting toward Tarkanian, son of the legendary basketball coach for the University of Nevada (Las Vegas).

In a recent television interview on Channel 13 (Las Vegas), Lowden hinted that she was amenable to more big-spending pork when she attacked Reid by saying, “What has he delivered for Nevada? … Lyndon Johnson gave Texas NASA. Robert Byrd is bringing the CIA to West Virginia.” Lowden has also admitted she voted for and contributed to Reid “early on.” In addition, Lowden was one of 11 Nevada delegates to the Republican National Convention in 1996. With fellow delegate and then State Assembly Co-Speaker Lynn Hettrick, then-State Sen. Lowden said that “the national party ought to follow Nevada’s lead and take abortion out of the platform.” Nevada Republicans, after a heated debate at the state convention in Reno earlier that month, had struck the abortion plank from the state platform. (Las Vegas Sun, May 18, 2009)  

Tarkanian is a solid opponent of earmarks and opposes abortion in all circumstances except the life of the mother. He lost a tight race against a longtime Democratic state senator in 2004 in a district that George W. Bush was losing by 20 percentage points. Two years later, he waged a strong-but-unsuccessful bid against Secretary of State Ross Miller, son of popular former Democratic Gov. (1988-98) Bob Miller. But the activist following he attracted in the two losing campaigns has clearly laid the groundwork for a strong Tarkanian candidacy in 2010. Among Republicans, Mason Dixon shows Lowden with 23%, Tarkanian 21%, and former state legislator Sharron Angle 9%.