New Mexico’s political scene is as diverse as its population, a fractious mix of Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, anarchists, independents, and irredeemable cranks. The presidential contests of 2000 and 2004 were too close to call on Election Day, requiring recounts to determine the winners by a hair (Gore in 2000, Bush in 2004). Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat who previously served as the U.S ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of the Department of Energy, was elected in 2002 by 17 percentage points (56 percent vs. 39 percent), the widest margin in any race since 1964. Don’t be fooled by his Anglo last name: Richardson is Mexican American, born in Pasadena and raised in Mexico City. A fluent Spanish speaker who has lived in New Mexico since 1978, he’s the only Hispanic governor in the United States, and was the first Hispanic to run for the Democratic nomination for president, as he entered the 2008 primary.
The state political scene is a mix of entrenched cronyism and activism. On the one hand, Senator Pete Domenici (Republican), a former pitcher for the Albuquerque Dukes, held his seat from 1972 to 2008; on the other, former governor Gary Johnson is an advocate for marijuana legalization, and the Santa Fe city council passed a living-wage law in 2008. But nepotistic assignments of highway repair contracts are common enough—as are politicians repeatedly arrested for DUIs and then cleared—that pundits often quip, “New Mexico is a third-world country.”
The system is even more muddled by the Indian reservations, each of which acts as a sovereign nation, with its own laws, tax regulations, police forces, and government. Indians vote in U.S. and state elections, but in the pueblos, most domestic issues are decided by each pueblo’s tribal governor, war chief, and a few other officials elected by a consensus of men in the kiva.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition