Rob Nikolewski. Photo by Santa Fe New Mexican/Clyde Mueller
SANTA FE – It won’t be long before we deal with the next Roundhouse political rhubarb: The debate over the replacement for Rep. Stephen Easley, the liberal Democrat who died unexpectedly Aug. 14.
Easley represented District 50, a sprawling area encompassing four counties.
The conversations of potential replacements to serve the remaining year on Easley’s term will center on which party will be represented.
As it stands, Democrats hold a 38-32 lead in the state’s House of Representatives, but that six-vote difference would be whittled down to four if a Republican is selected. And given the number of conservative Democrats who sit in the Roundhouse, a four-vote differential may loom large when hot-button issues such as gun control or gay marriage make it before the House.
Here’s how the replacement process works:
County commissioners nominate a candidate, and Gov. Susana Martinez must select whomever the commissioners send her.
Since District 50 is made up of parts of Santa Fe, Torrance, Valencia and Bernalillo counties, the governor will have to choose up to four nominees. The county commissions in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties have Democratic majorities; the commissions in Valencia and Torrance have Republican majorities.
It’s a safe bet to assume Santa Fe and Bernalillo will nominate candidates with D’s next to their names, while Valencia and Torrance will send up candidates with R’s.
Democrats will insist Martinez select a Democrat to replace Easley, and they can make a sound argument. After all, Easley won the reconfigured District 50 race handily, getting nearly 56 percent of the vote.
Democrats can say it’s clear voters in District 50 want a Democrat representing them.
But, as so often happens, political power plays from the past have unintended consequences in the present.
Case in point: The 2011 machinations by Democrats involving a state Senate seat that parallels the Easley case.
Two years ago, state Sen. Kent Cravens of Albuquerque resigned his seat to become a lobbyist for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. Cravens represented one of the most Republican Senate districts in the state.
The district included Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, but the respective county commissions had Democratic majorities. The district might have been a GOP bastion, but the county commissioners in Bernalillo and Sandoval each nominated Democrat and trial lawyer Lisa Curtis to replace Cravens — even though Curtis didn’t even live in Sandoval County.
On top of that, Democrats had a nearly 2-to-1 majority in the Senate, so picking up an additional seat didn’t make much practical difference.
With just one candidate to choose from, Martinez had no choice but to appoint Curtis.
A year later, despite spending $306,000 of her own money to win the seat outright, Curtis lost badly — 56 percent to 43 percent — to Republican Mark Moores.
You can argue Martinez should be above playing tit-for-tat and appoint a Democrat to replace Easley — and that’s what I’d say as well.
But if she doesn’t — and it would be awfully tempting for her to appoint a Republican, especially when things get tight in next year’s 30-day session — Democrats can’t whine too loudly.
Finally, in national political news, some Republicans are trying to rally their troops in a last-ditch effort to defund the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
But one of the lifelong lessons in politics says that when your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, don’t stop him from reloading.
President Obama ramrodded the Affordable Care Act through Capitol Hill, and now it’s hit one well-publicized problem after another.
A well-coordinated defunding campaign has little hope of abolishing the entire law. Even if partially successful, it will give Obama and the Democrats cover. “It would have worked if those obstructionists hadn’t gotten their way,” they’ll say.
Obamacare is the Democrats’ baby; let them take responsibility for it.
As Colin Powell said of Iraq, “You break it, you own it.”
That didn’t turn out so well, either.
This column originally ran in the Santa Fe New Mexican on Aug. 25, 2013. Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski