Only Yesterday: Jeff Bingaman vs. Harrison Schmitt 1982

by John Daniel

Back in the day: Senator Jeff Bingaman

Today’s retirement announcement by five-term Senator Jeff Bingaman recalls to mind the election back in 1982 that launched his remarkable career. That was the year Bingaman challenged a sitting Senator, a one-term incumbent whose name just recently popped back into the news —  Harrison Schmitt.  (link link link)

Bingaman’s 1982 campaign was particularly noteworthy in that it really represented the emergence of the state’s environmental community as a major player in New Mexico politics.

After winning a tough primary against former Governor Jerry Apodaca, Bingaman went into the general election as the underdog, trailing Schmitt in the polls until catching him in the final days. The pivotal event in that race were negative TV ads aired by Schmitt that backfired.

Here’s is how Time magazine described that race:

NEW MEXICO. Harrison Schmitt, 47, first rocketed to fame in 1972 when he landed on the moon as an Apollo astronaut. That feat helped propel him into the U.S. Senate in 1976. But in a state with an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, Reagan’s economic programs hurt Schmitt badly. State Attorney General Jeff Bingaman, 39, constantly linked Schmitt to the White House and called attention to his lackluster six years of service. But Schmitt may have largely engineered his own defeat. The Senator attacked his opponent with a pair of ads blasting Bingaman’s record as attorney general, a post he has held since 1978. One spot attacked Bingaman’s handling of a 1980 prison riot inquiry, while the other accused him of requesting a pardon for a prisoner who had once been on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Both commercials turned out to be based on inaccurate information. So incensed was Santa Fe Archbishop Robert Sanchez that he publicly denounced the prison inquiry ad, an invaluable boost for Bingaman in a state that is one-third Hispanic and largely Catholic. At the polls, Bingaman brought Schmitt back to earth, 54% to 46%.

And that’s the way it was, 29 years ago.

That Was the Week That Was: NM Leg Wk#3

The editor apologizes to Claus and our readers for posting this a day late.  Nonetheless, in the interests of preserving the historical record of this riveting legislative session, here it is.

by Claus Whiteacre

In week three of the New Mexico Legislature, legislative committees got very busy and Gov. Susana Martinez issued another yet another executive order right in tune with the themes from her election campaign.

In the wake of the Super Bowl, a football analogy seems appropriate. By repeatedly running the executive order route, the Governor appears to be attempting end runs around the legislative branch of government – as well as the law. And on three of these plays, she has run afoul of those black-robed refs in the third branch of government — the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The Walkout

On Monday before either chamber had convened, the Republican members of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee walked out in the middle of a meeting. The revolt was led by Rep. Don Bratton (R-Hobbs).

While it is common for individual members of committees to talk to the press after a hearing, the fact that all of Republican committee members joined together after the walkout to craft a collective statement to the press brings up some questions.

The united statement spun the walkout as being unplanned and said the Republicans were just trying to represent the “people” in what they considered an unfair hearing.  However, it is worth noting that joining the walkout were a significant number of industry lobbyists. Presumably, this was done to remind us all that corporations are people too — albeit artificial ones.

It remains to be seen whether we will see more “unplanned” walkouts in the days ahead.

The Executive Order on Immigration

Later in the week, Gov. Martinez issued an executive order mandating that state police officers question criminal suspects about their immigration status. The executive order revoked a policy put in place by former Gov. Bill Richardson in 2005.

On Thursday morning, more than a dozen Democratic senators and representatives called a noon press conference in the Rotunda to denounce Gov. Martinez’s executive order.

“There are two things to take away from this: We are not Arizona and it is important that no one in this state will fear approaching a police officer,” said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque).

In what turned into a duel of competing press conferences, Martinez scheduled one of her own at 12:30 PM to talk about the gas outages throughout the state.

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Science or Fiction – It’s All the Same to Harrison Schmitt

Harrison Schmitt

By Claus Whiteacre

The first order of business last Thursday afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee was discussion of the proposed budget for the state Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. Analysts did the basic presentation, but at the end, secretary-designate Harrison Schmitt got to chime in.

Given the fawning welcoming of Schmitt by Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), it appeared that Schmitt would have an easy go of it before the influential Senate committee.

Schmitt, 75, started off with a walk down memory lane, starting from when he was a child growing up in Silver City and ranging on to his scholastic adventures, his advances at NASA as an astronaut and finally, to his single term as U.S. Senator.

For a while there, I thought I had walked into a book promotion tour, but Schmitt concluded by saying his recap was merely to present his qualifications to the committee.

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