Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Junior; But Then What’s In a Name?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Having apparently left the political stage, retired six-term U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, once again stepped into the spotlight putting the family name into political play.

The 77-year old introduced his 50-year old lawyer son, Peter Jr. who announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor of New Mexico.

With no public elected experience, Domenici Jr. spoke to a wide array of journalists, from television, to weekly and daily newspapers and their photographers, a radio reporter and a handful of bloggers.

There seemed to be more journalists present than at other Republican candidate announcements. Also in attendance were a small number of family members, friends and campaign staff.

The very small room was crowded beyond capacity overflowing into the hallway.

Beyond capacity may be an odd turn of a phrase. With the need for some distance between the podium and the line of television cameras there is a large void in the middle of the room. Spectators lined the walls creating very limited space.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Only a couple of years ago the state’s most experienced campaigner stood before a large crowd of supporters to announce his retirement for medical reasons.

Standing behind him was his bearded eldest son.

Now he sits behind his namesake. Despite what appears to be a halo, Junior is no Saint Pete.

Domenici joins four other Republicans who have thrown in their candidacy for the state’s top administrative job. State Representative Janice Arnold-Jones, left, Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez, whom I haven’t photographed, former GOP chairman Allen Weh, and advertising executive Doug Turner have already entered the race. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, right, is the only declared Democratic candidate.

My Take

It’s about the name – Domenici – a name that denotes power and dominance in New Mexico politics.

Both Parties are sure to make noise about the progeny trying to follow the father.

However, don’t let the irony escape notice of the possibility of a Domenici squaring off against Denish, née Daniels. The Lt. Governor’s father, a former State Representative Jack Daniels, was the first of six Democratic victims defeated by the senior Domenici when he was first elected to the Senate in 1972.

The Senator Domenici’s first foray into State level politics, after having been a City Commissioner and the ad-hoc Mayor of Albuquerque, by virtue of being the Commissions’ president, was his 1970 run for Governor. He beat Lt. Gov. Ely Francis in the GOP primary then face and lost to another man – Bruce King – who would head his own dynasty.

Truner is the son of William Turner, who was recently a member of the Mid Rio Grande Conservancy District.

New Mexico politics is resplendent with nepotism in direct lineage and through extended families. Other family names like: Anaya, Aragon, Block, Lujan, Martinez, Montoya, Runnels, and Sanchez, among others, have graced the halls of power. Domenici may as well be another one. Nepotism doesn’t have to be a bad thing and often isn’t. It does however, conjure thoughts of one lacking in ability and trading on the family name. Sometimes it’s true.

One of the more surprising sights was the presence of some of the heavy weights in the journalistic sphere; there was a real live public sighting of political blogger Joe Monahan. He is seldom seen at such events. Though he has been spotted as a regular at events involving the senior Domenici; it might be that his neighbor, one of the Domenici sister’s influences his attendance through one of her gracious invitation.

Monahan’s alligators’ seemed to be the insider prognosticators trying to kill off the competition with the weight of the heavy name.

Media executive, KOAT 7’s President/General Manager Mary Lynn Roper, was in the room.

I had to agree with Monahan about the size of the room and the timing, and the limited number of questions allowed of the press.

I’ll take it one step further; it was a ham-fisted attempt to manipulate the media.

Works for some, because the TV guys are limited to looking for some cutting sound bite. Domenici delivered a couple, especially when talking about State employees having to take furlough days, and suggested that the current administration and likely Democratic candidate should take a permanent furlough.

Cute, but it was only a throw way line without any actual substance on how he was going to fix the fiscal crisis. TV will eat that stuff all day. However it doesn’t add to the political discourse.

Monahan has worked a campaign or two and seemed to think this event was well handled for what Campaign Manager had to work with.

My read is you won’t see Domenici stepping up to too many inter-Party debates or joint appearances. His father mastered the dodge and dismissed his political opponents. The elder Domenici’s advice may not play so well.

I stood close to the Senator because he has been the subject of a multi decades long personal project. His son’s announcement is a sub-story in my documentation of the senior statesman. The Senator appeared anxious and to be praying, he whispered emphatically, “one question,” when KOAT’s Ilana Gold, below, asked a follow up question.

It was an indication that junior is, as he stated, “his own man.” It also indicates that his father’s instructions to him on how to handle the press went awry. Monahan got it right that it was no career changer when he wrote, “Pete Jr. plowed--and sometimes plodded through--a 15 minute speech.”

A byproduct of Monahan’s appearance was his request to pose senior and junior. Father and son included wife and mother Nancy. Photojournalistically, such a request to pose is a hot topic of debate with some suggesting that it is a manipulation of an event by the photographer. Of course one can ask what the difference is when covering a press conference where the subject of the press conference manipulates their event. Note: Journal photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis, left, did not join in the feeding frenzy.


I was so busy readying myself for the start of the 30-day session that I failed to post.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico tapped into my archives to select some portraits of current lawmakers for a video tribute at their 20th Annual legislative Dinner.

Top row: Reps. Thomas Garcia, Edward Sandoval, Sen. John Pinto, and Rep. Elias Barela.
Second row: Sens. Carlos R. Cisneros, Cynthia Nava, George Munoz, and Rep. Jim R. Trujillo
Third row: Rep. Roberto "Bobby" J. Gonzales, Sen. David Ulibarri, Rep. Nick Salazar, and Sen. Tim Eichenberg.
Fourth row: Sens. Lynda Lovejoy, Pete Campos, Richard Martinez, and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez.

Geusts at the reception included Governor Bill Richardson, left, who stayed only through the preliminary event and New Mexico State University's newly appointed President Barbara Couture, right.

Who should I bump into, but Monahan, above, talking with Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins. Two sightings in a week, makes talking about his reporting style of not showing up at events hard to prove.

Monahan got news about Denish coming out swinging at Domenici Jr.

Congressman Harry Teague, right, told the pre-dinner reception how he had met Denish, left, as a fifth grader in Hobbs, N.M. She was always telling her classmates’ to line up on the playground before returning to the schoolroom, gesturing with a backward sweeping motion saying, “behind me, behind me.” Even back then, Teague said, she was trying to lead, and he had been following her ever since.

Denish was the dinner's keynote speaker.

Two Governor Bruce King Awards were presented: the former governor's niece, Representative Rhonda King, above, Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Torrance Counties, accepted her recognition from her cousin, Attorney General Gary King, above right, in his father's name; Senator Howie Morales, Catron, Grant and Socorro Counties was also given an award by State Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales, below right.

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