If Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has started a war within her own party as some political bloggers are speculating, few are talking about it for the record.
Speculation centers on two of eastern New Mexico’s senior Republican senators: Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales and Clint Harden of Clovis.
Harden announced his retirement in February, about a month before the deadline to file for his District 7 seat. Harden said at the time he took pride in being able to work with both Democrats and Republicans for the good of his district and New Mexico.
Asked about speculation he had been targeted by Martinez for not getting behind her education agenda in the last legislative session, Harden said only, “I made my decision. I knew I was going to be up against a negative campaign and, frankly, this job just doesn’t pay enough for that. I was ready to retire.”
Harden spent 10 years in the Senate after serving eight years in former Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration as secretary of labor.
Two political bloggers, Heath Haussamen and Joe Monahan, have written that Harden is one of five retiring Republican state senators targeted by Martinez.
Haussamen wrote, “The apparent targeting of Harden shows that Martinez, fresh off another round of high-profile legislative losses on her top reform proposals, intends to remake the Legislature in this year’s election.”
In a statement issued after this report was posted on CMI websites, Jay McCleskey, the governor’s political advisor, said Ingle was a friend.
"Governor Martinez considers Senator Ingle an ally and strongly supports his re-election,” the statement said. “In fact, Senator Ingle sponsored the Governor's key education reform initiative last session and the two worked closely to pass significant tax relief for New Mexico small businesses that will help create jobs.
“It is no secret,” the statement said, “that Senator Harden often opposed the Governor on key issues, such as taxes and education, but the Governor respects his service to New Mexico. The Governor did not endorse Angie Spears until after Senator Harden announced his retirement."
Three candidates have announced they intend to seek Harden’s seat including Angie Spears, John Patrick “Pat” Woods and Mark W. Meyers. Both bloggers have said Spears was hand-picked by Martinez and her advisors.
Spears announced for Harden’s seat several days before the senator announced he was retiring.
Spears is the niece of Public Regulation Commission Chairman Pat Lyons and a former analyst for senate minority leadership office.
In her announcement for Harden’s seat, Spears pledged to revoke legislation that grants driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and to prioritize education reform, ending social promotion and supporting merit-based pay increases for teachers. All are dear to Martinez; initiatives that died in the last session of the Legislature.
Asked if she was the governor’s pick for Harden’s seat, Spears said only that public office was a longtime goal and with statewide redistricting “ for me the time was right.”
“I’m passionate about education reform,” Spears said. “ I’m willing to stand up and be a voice for people.”
Ingle said he has no intention of retiring. Blogger Monahan has speculated there is a Martinez movement to oust Ingle as senate minority leader.
“Who knows,” said Ingle.
The filing day is March 20. No Republicans have announced for Ingle’s District 27 seat.
Should Ingle be re-elected, the decision on who is appointed senate minority leader will be decided in a Republican party caucus shortly after the November general election.
“We’ll worry about those things when the time comes,” Ingle said.