CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Suzana Martinez, from left to right, Allen Weh, Janice Arnold-Jones, Doug Tuner and Pete Dominici Jr. answered questions Thursday at a debate at the Lyceum Theater in Clovis hosted by the High Plains Patriots.
By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
With little dissension emanating from the Lyceum Theater, Republican gubernatorial candidates want to sell the Rail Runner, reduce exempt positions and make sure the current lieutenant governor isn’t New Mexico’s next governor.
“I’m sure you’re all here,” said Doug Turner, one of five candidates at Thursday’s GOP gubernatorial forum, “because you don’t support Diane Denish.”
In vying for the support of the High Plains Patriots, which sponsored the forum, candidates extolled the virtues of less government and taking advantage of what candidate Pete Domenici Jr. called a “perfect storm for overthrowing progressive Democrats in New Mexico.”
“We are all part of that perfect storm,” said the son of the former six-term Republican senator with the same name. It was one of countless remarks that drew the applause of the approximate 180 people in attendance.
Audience queries included the role of state government, the Legislature’s failure to finalize a budget during the regular session and the Rail Runner train.
Candidates said if they could move the Rail Runner, a commuter train that runs from Santa Fe to Belen, they would.
“It’s a dog,” Turner said. “I’m not sure there’s a private company who would buy it from us.”
Domenici called it a “salvage project,” while 3rd Judicial District Attorney Susana Martinez said, “We need to make sure it’s self-sufficient; if a private company wants to (buy it), absolutely.”
Martinez won a straw poll after the debate, claiming 42 percent of the 139 votes cast.
The candidates believe the federal government is overstepping its authority, and think all governments should only provide essential services such as security, public safety and education.
“When we say to the federal government, ‘We don’t need your money,’ we’ll be better off,” said Janice Arnold-Jones, who has been a state representative since 2003. She said New Mexico residents should be prepared for a few years without capital outlay, and she would focus money on water systems, electrical systems and roads.
Peter Penney of Clovis asked why the budget wasn’t fixed and the Legislature is now in a special session. Candidate Allen Weh said nobody’s had the fortitude to fix things.
“We’ve got Band-Aids all over Santa Fe,” said Weh, who called the state a business that needs to fire current management, “and nobody with the will to make tough decisions.”
The candidates blamed Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration for not setting the Legislature’s agenda.
Arnold-Jones said Richardson did not have a proposed budget, and instead worked on domestic partnership, an ethics commission and a lobbying bill. Martinez said the Richardson administration is playing a “shell game” and constantly announces different budget totals, and Turner joked that Richardson is a lame duck and the special session is “a devious plot to keep himself busy.”
A call placed to Richardson’s office to offer a chance for response was not immediately returned Thursday night.
Arnold-Jones said after frustrating years in the minority party, she’d like to see a change in the legislative and executive office.
“We are outvoted, outgunned and we fight like crazy,” Arnold-Jones said. “When you have a Democratically-controlled Legislature, it’s really difficult to make changes.”
Weh, a former state Republican Party chairman, promised he would not seek any other elected office.
“I’m not a candidate for all seasons,” Weh said. “I’m a candidate for the 2010 season. In 2010, it’s a different season, marked by taxpayer discontent, voter discontent for a lot of valid reasons.”
Tim Ashley of the High Plains Patriots thanked the candidates for keeping the forum civilized, noting a testy Texas Republican primary between Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Patriots President Penny Bailey said the organization has heard Diane Denish, the lone Democrat on the ballot, will try to schedule a debate in Clovis with the June 1 primary winner.