SANTA FE — Republican victories are so rare in the New Mexico State Senate that politicians have been known to mock their own efforts.
Democrats control the Senate 28-14 and they can block most any initiative they dislike.
Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, lost a bill last winter that would have eliminated time limits to prosecute homicides. Payne, an attorney and a former Navy SEAL, said few experiences in life had frustrated him more than serving in the Senate.
"I feel like I'm playing for the Washington Generals," he said, referencing the basketball team that was under orders each night to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her political backers with deep pockets hope to tighten the gap between Democrats and her party in November.
Martinez's chief political adviser, working with the Republican fundraising committee Reform New Mexico Now, has hammered two Democratic leaders of the Senate with negative ads.
The governor does not say so publicly, but there probably is no legislator she would rather defeat than Sen. Michael Sanchez, the majority leader from Belen.
Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell, president pro tem of the Senate, is also high on the Republicans' list of legislators they want to oust.
Sanchez, a senator for 20 years, decides which bills are heard on the floor of the Senate. Martinez accused him of bottling up a bill in 2011 that would have empowered the state to retain en masse about 2,500 third-graders who were in the bottom tier on reading proficiency.
But no money was in the the bill for more teacher aides or summer school sessions to provide extra help for kids who would be held back. Certain legislators later said it wise that the measure was not considered in the Senate, for it could have done more harm than anything.
For his part, Sanchez said he did not try to torpedo Martinez's retention bill. Rather, he said, he must juggle hundreds of pieces of legislation, all of which are important to somebody.
Republican state Rep. David Chavez of Los Lunas is challenging Sanchez for his seat in Senate District 29.
Chavez first said he would not seek re-election to the House of Representatives because he needed to rebuild his law practice. Then, less than a week later, Chavez jumped into a campaign against Sanchez.
Had he not, Sanchez might have cruised through unopposed.
Both Sanchez and Chavez are attorneys, and sometimes they see the world the same way.
Sanchez last winter sponsored a bill that would have allowed judges to expunge records of the wrongfully convicted, as well as certain criminal records. Chavez voted for Sanchez's bill, which cleared the House and Senate.
But Martinez, formerly a district attorney, vetoed it.
Chavez on another occasion backed a bill similar to one favored by Democrats.
In 2011, Chavez offered a compromise proposal to allow illegal immigrants to continue driving in New Mexico, an idea contrary to what Martinez wants. She is seeking to repeal a 2003 law that enables illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver licenses.
But in a passionate speech before a House committee, Chavez said his bill was rooted in humanity. It would allow illegal foreign nationals driving privileges good only in New Mexico.
He introduced his measure when Juarez, Mexico, was a war zone. Juarez had 3,100 murders in 2010, more than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Houston and Albuquerque combined.
Chavez said he understood why Mexicans where fleeing the violence for the safety and opportunity of New Mexico. Giving them driving privileges would help families, he said, arguments that Democrats often make.
Another of Chavez's bills from 2011 could hurt him in the Senate race.
He proposed to restrict drunken-driving prosecutions. His bill narrowly failed in two votes of the House of Representatives, 35-32 and 33-30.
Chavez said the state was wasting time and resources prosecuting drivers who were below the established blood-alcohol limit for drunken driving. It is .08.
Drivers with a lesser blood-alcohol level can be and are prosecuted, based on other evidence, such as slurred speech and an inability to pass roadside sobriety tests. But those cases nearly always go to trial, taking up valuable court time that should be used for more serious crimes, Chavez said.
His argument nearly carried the day. But a Democrat, Rep. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, said Chavez's bill was a waste of time. Even if the bill cleared the Legislature, Martinez would veto it on the basis that it weakened drunken-driving laws in a state with unsafe roads, Cervantes said at the time.
Jennings, 62, a senator since 1979, also has Republican competition this year. Cliff Pirtle, 27, a farmer, is trying to unseat him in Senate District 32.
Jennings has not had an opponent in a general election since 2000. Pirtle won a Republican primary last spring by 10 votes, after a recount.
But after that nail-biter, Pirtle has been walking precincts and knocking on doors. He tells everyone he meets that Jennings supported the law that allows illegal immigrants to get driver licenses. Pirtle said he would vote to repeal what he considers a bad law.
Jennings points out that a bill he favored would have toughened penalties for fraud and required foreign nationals to renew their licenses every two years. Licenses now can be obtained for four or eight years. This system would solve any deficiencies in the original license bill, he said.
Pirtle indirectly is getting plenty of help from Martinez's chief political adviser. One message in ads going to voters is that the licensing law will never be changed as long as Jennings is a senator.
Jennings has struck back at the Martinez's administration, including her chief of staff, Keith Gardner.
In a secretly recorded conversation with a friend named Brian Powell, Gardner called Jennings the vilest of names. The tape recently became public, and Gardner, trying to save his credibility, offered a belated apology to Jennings.
Jennings said Gardner was insincere. Apologize one day, then stand with people who send out false ads the next, Jennings said of Gardner.
In particular, Jennings was angry over ads showing him with former Democratic senator Manny Aragon, who was convicted in a scheme to defraud the state of $4.4 million.
Jennings said the pictures were doctored to make it appear he was huddled with Aragon. But Jennings acknowledged writing a letter, asking a judge to be merciful with Aragon. Aragon now is serving a 5 1/2-year sentence in federal prison.
On the tape, Gardner agreed with Powell when he said he "hated" Roswell. This led the Jennings' camp to create the website "They Hate Roswell."
Going negative in the campaign was a must, Jennings said, because of all the indecent things done to him by Martinez's political associates, some from out of state.
But, he said, he had said nothing bad about Pirtle, the one who hopes to take his seat.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com