Democrats may hang together this time, freezing out GOP
State Sen. Pete Campos has succeeded in what may be the most difficult part of his campaign for president pro tem of the state Senate.
Campos, D-Las Vegas, topped a four-candidate field at the Democrats' caucus over the weekend.
He could still be upset when the vote for president pro tem goes to the full Senate next month, but three factors give 58-year-old Campos an advantage over anybody who decides to challenge him in a floor vote.
They are anger, improved unity by Democrats and the departure of President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, who was ousted by voters in the general election.
First, the anger. New Mexico just endured a mean season of politics. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her political committees ran expensive, negative campaigns against Democrat senators.
Given the nastiness of November, Senate Democrats are not inclined to cooperate with Republicans to decide who becomes president pro tem.
Second, Democrats are more likely to stick together this year than they were in 2008, when Jennings received support from Democrats and Republicans to become president pro tem.
"I don't think I'd want to be in one of those coalitions again," said Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup.
He was a freshman senator when he joined with Republicans to help elect Jennings.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, also was part of the coalition in 2008, but will not be this time, she said. Lopez was among the Democrats who trailed Campos in the caucus vote.
Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, also against Campos for pro tem at the party caucus. He says he wants party solidarity.
"Leadership is about action, not position, and I feel as a caucus we have capable leaders who will move us in a direction of unity," Morales said.
Democrats control the Senate 25-17. They can freeze out the GOP in the pro tem vote. To do so, at least 22 Democrats would have to support Campos in the floor vote. If they do, the Republicans are voiceless.
The third factor on Campos side was the humiliating defeat of Jennings, D-Roswell. He was a senator since 1979, and he had friends across both aisle. Republican Cliff Pirtle, 27, ended Jennings' political career in November.
"Jennings was a sitting pro tem," said Sen. Timothy Keller, D-Albuquerque. "Now, the seat is open."
Many Democrats in the Senate loved Jennings. They were willing to join with Republicans to elect him.
No other sitting Democrat may be able to replicate what Jennings did in getting votes from senators of both parties. That bodes well for Campos.
The frayed nerves, bad blood and changed times all add up to fewer Democrats wanting to join with Republicans to elect a pro tem.
As for what Campos is thinking, perhaps only he knows. He will not reveal any more than he has to in the month until the floor vote.
He could not be more different from Jennings. Campos is from the north, Jennings the south. Campos is a college president. Jennings is a rancher.
Campos is measured and quiet, more inclined to write a column than make a floor speech. For all his love of language, Campos almost never says anything quotable.
In contrast, Jennings would speak for 10 or 15 minutes at a time on the Senate floor. He liked to be quoted. He loved being one of the gang. He was close friends with as many Republicans as Democrats.
The Jennings era ended when 27-year-old Republican Cliff Pirtle defeated him in November.
The Campos era could begin Jan. 15, the first day of the session, when the floor vote occurs.