About a week before the primary election, all five Democratic contenders for governor co-hosted a fundraising event in honor of lieutenant governor nominee Debra Haaland, who was unopposed in the primary. Three of the candidates, including winner Gary King, were there in person; the others sent delegates. The theme was unity – agreeing before the primary that the losing candidates will unite behind the winner, and whoever wins will be happy to have Haaland as a running mate.

I have been looking for signs that the race for governor could be a fair fight. This is one.

Haaland will be a positive addition to the ticket. First, she's Native American. She's a member of Laguna Pueblo, and she works as tribal administrator of San Felipe Pueblo. Her ethnicity brings an element that's new in a statewide race. Her presence can be expected to bring the Native American vote to the Democratic ticket. Perhaps she will attract Native American money. Maybe. At the unity event, speakers claimed she's the first Native American nationally to run on a gubernatorial ticket.

Second, she's an attractive candidate -- graceful, personable, articulate and well-spoken. She has a law degree from UNM and a resume that mixes private sector, tribal administration and political advocacy.

And there's that cordial relationship, already started.

Contrast that with the relationship, or the absence of one, between Gov. Susana Martinez and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. There's not much teamwork going on.

Early in Martinez's tenure, Sanchez was sent off on a "listening tour" around the state, to meet with business and other groups and hear about their concerns and priorities. The scuttlebutt was that this was to get him out of Santa Fe.

The scuttlebutt nowadays is that he's still not a member of Martinez's inner circle and still the administration's Rodney Dangerfield, the guy who "don't get no respect."

A particularly nasty moment occurred in 2011 when Sanchez announced he was running for U.S. Senate. Jeff Bingaman was stepping down at the end of 2012. Former Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson had already announced she would run for that seat.

Here's the statement Martinez issued: "It is Lt. Gov. Sanchez's decision to pursue what he believes is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run for the Senate. However, it is my responsibility to keep my word to the people of New Mexico by pursuing the reform agenda I promised and delivering the results they deserve. To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Gov. Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution."

It's understandable that the governor would avoid an endorsement in a primary election. But she could have shown a little warmth. This statement made me shiver.

Legislature watchers say Sanchez has done a commendable job running the state Senate, with graciousness, proper parliamentary procedure and a light sense of humor. This is the lieutenant governor's most important job, and not all lieutenant governors do it well.

What lieutenant governors do, or how well they do it, is less important in elections than what they symbolize. Sanchez probably doesn't bring any more Hispanic votes than Martinez could get by herself. Haaland allows the Democrats to demonstrate ethnic diversity as well as a female face on the ticket.

In 1994, a sitting lieutenant governor and a lieutenant governor candidate helped defeat Bruce King and elect Gary Johnson. The "Democrats for Johnson" movement was led by Casey Luna, who had been snubbed by the Kings. Nominee Patsy Madrid was also a source of friction.

Surely Gary King learned from that experience and knows better. Besides, Haaland is not an abrasive personality. This fall, we can expect to see King and Haaland looking like a team.

 

Merilee Dannemann is an independent public policy professional in Albuquerque. Contact Merilee Dannemann through triplespacedagain.com.