Businessman and healer, Keller gives his party best shot to win
Keller, front, would be the Democrats best hope for the '14 gubernatorial race
State Sen. Timothy Keller is not yet a household name. He could be — in a hurry.
If Democrats were smart and shrewd and committed to defeating Republican Gov. Susana Martinez next year, Keller would be their man.
He is just 35 years old, but he is as close to an ideal candidate as any political party will find.
Keller is a big-picture thinker, a business economist by profession, who has worked across the planet on job creation. He stands up for his district and his beliefs, but his best attribute is that he is a healer.
Keller has a personal style that pulls people together when politics might drive them apart. That may be the most important quality any modern governor can have.
Born and raised in Albuquerque, Keller has a resume of solid gold. He received a bachelor’s degree in finance and art history from Notre Dame and a master’s in business administration from Harvard. More impressive is his in-the-trenches business experience.
Keller spent three years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, starting a company called Digital Divide Data. His venture delivered technology and created jobs in a country torn by the land mines of war and the ravages of polio.
Keller also worked for corporate titans Credit Suisse and Booz and Co. He could have settled in a skyscraper office in Chicago or on either coast, but he chose to come back to New Mexico.
Politics has been a calling since Keller was a teenager at St. Pius X High school. He envisioned being a state senator and then governor.
Keller unseated an incumbent Democrat in a primary five years ago, becoming the senator for what he calls Albuquerque’s International District.
This area around the state fairgrounds is 70 percent non-Anglo. Twenty-seven languages are spoken in the neighborhoods he represents. It is one of the most impoverished parts of New Mexico.
Being the senator of so diverse a district has had an obvious advantage.
“It’s taught me how to work with everybody,” Keller said.
He has taken the same approach at the Capitol, often teaming with Republican legislators on bills to improve government operations. This year, Keller is carrying 10 bills with Republicans.
Previously, he and Republican Sen. Steve Neville of Aztec brought about legislation to professionalize the State Investment Council. Its business practices were suspect under Democrat Bill Richardson’s leadership.
Keller also got through a bill in 2011 to analyze the effectiveness of state subsidies for the movie and television industry. Martinez’s administration still has not gotten around to doing the work, despite the street-smart law that Keller crafted.
This year, Keller has introduced legislation to require investment experience to serve on the board of the New Mexico Finance Authority, an agency that let a fraudulent audit slip through its executive tier last year.
Though being governor was a boyhood dream for Keller, he is measured when talking about the possibility of running.
“I am in no rush. I haven’t thought about it too seriously,” he said.
But Keller knows that the election of 2014 is around a short corner for a politician. He sees key separations between Martinez and himself.
He is a businessman with global experience. She is a career government employee, first as a prosecutor for 25 years and then as governor for the last two.
“I am struck with the lack of big ideas coming from the Fourth Floor,” Keller said of Martinez.
Timing is an enormous factor in politics. Keller says circumstances that helped Martinez win in 2010 have diminished.
“Our state was thirsty for something very different after Richardson,” he said.
With New Mexico stuck in the lower echelon on educational achievement and economic growth, voters may want a new governor in 2014.
As a businessman from a melting pot district, Keller is the Democrat who can bridge authentic values of his party with a jobs agenda. He stands out as the Democrats best bet to unseat Martinez.
Attorney General Gary King already has announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Pleasant, smart and unexciting, King covets the governor’s office that his late father Bruce held for three terms.
State Auditor Hector Balderas ran such a tepid campaign for the U.S. Senate last year that he would not fire up voters in a try for governor.
Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman is an intriguing long shot. But he just retired from politics and would be 71 if he decided to make a comeback in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Typically, state legislators do not emerge as strong contenders for governor of New Mexico. Keller would be the exception — an up-and-comer with a good head and a good heart.