Lieutenant governor hopeful says his experience makes him the candidate for the job
The Republican says the state would be “flush” with cash instead of struggling to cope with massive budget shortfalls. Government would be more efficient – and more effective. The “culture of corruption” many believe is prevalent in state government “would not exist,” he said.
“People would have looked at a John Sanchez administration and the State of New Mexico as being a light at the top of the hill,” Sanchez said during a recent interview in Las Cruces. “We would have been an example.”
Sanchez says he predicted when he was running against Richardson in 2002 that if Richardson won, the Legislature would become a rubber stamp for the governor’s agenda, Richardson would use the state to try to win a national race, state spending would grow almost 50 percent, and pay-to-play would increase.
All of that came true, he said.
“I was almost prophetic,” Sanchez said. “If I were running for governor, I would be running an ‘I told you so’ campaign.”
But Sanchez isn’t running for governor this year. He’s one of four Republicans vying for the right to be the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. The others are state Sen. Kent Cravens of Albuquerque, former state Rep. Brian Moore of Clayton, and Santa Fe doctor and 2006 GOP gubernatorial candidate J.R. Damron.
Sanchez says he’s uniquely positioned among the candidates for lieutenant governor to use the job to help build the GOP into the majority party in New Mexico.
Sanchez said the first step toward building a stronger and more influential GOP is going on the offense. One of former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson’s flaws, Sanchez said, was that he didn’t build the party.
“Gary just didn’t really understand, or maybe didn’t believe, that party building was something he should be doing,” Sanchez said. “… We’re simply playing defense right now.”
Going on the offensive, Sanchez said, means training and helping fund GOP candidates from the local level on up. He said the Democrats, through unions and other organizations that recruit and apprentice candidates, have invested in that long-term process.
“We have not seen that in Republican leaders,” Sanchez said.
Such party building also means issuing a challenge to voters of all parties to vote Republican – “especially those who are tired” of Democratic control and what Sanchez calls “the Richardson experiment – turning all power over to one person.”
“People are angry, and have a right to be,” Sanchez said.
After eight years of Sanchez focusing on party building, he predicted, the GOP would be “very close” to controlling the New Mexico Senate “and we would be within striking distance in the House.”
“For me, it’s not theory. It’s practice. I’ve been there,” Sanchez said.
In 2000, Sanchez ran against then-House Speaker Raymond Sanchez – the most powerful lawmaker in the state – and defeated him.
How would he use that knowledge to build up the state GOP? Sanchez said the primary election battle in New Mexico is for conservative, younger Hispanics – who he won in 2000. And he was keeping up with Richardson in the 2002 gubernatorial race until Labor Day, when Richardson shifted gears and spent the last few weeks – and millions of dollars – attacking Sanchez.
If he had the money to keep up with Richardson, the end result would have been a much closer race, Sanchez said. “Richardson understood that we were making inroads,” he added.
Hispanics are looking for ‘someone to lead them’
Today the political environment is ripe for the GOP, Sanchez said. Conservative, Hispanic Democrats and independents who went with Richardson in 2002 feel betrayed. He says he often comes across people who tell him they voted for Richardson instead of him and now regret it.
Sanchez is the only Hispanic in the GOP primary race for lieutenant governor. He said he’s “not playing the race card,” but there’s a difference when a Hispanic candidate tells Hispanics that it’s OK to vote Republican.
“All Hispanics are looking for in this state is someone to lead them,” Sanchez said. “They saw that in Richardson and followed him 100 percent, and today they have a bitter taste in their mouths.”
Asked why he isn’t running for governor, Sanchez said he’s a father and businessman, and he knows from 2002 what it’s like to have to raise lots of money and run in a tough primary. Five Republican candidates are currently battling in a very hotly contested gubernatorial primary.
Sanchez said he was “close to pulling the trigger” and entering the governor’s race in the Spring of 2009 – at a time when former U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson, both Republicans, were also considering joining the race – but the Pearce/Wilson U.S. Senate primary in 2008 was so divisive that he didn’t want to get involved in further dividing the party.
Though he chose the lieutenant governor’s race, Sanchez said he believes he has the stature of a gubernatorial candidate. And he said if any other Democrat had been running for governor in 2002, he would have won that race.
So putting him on the ticket alongside the party’s gubernatorial nominee this year, Sanchez said, is “basically two gubernatorial candidates running in different parts of the state at the same time.”
“It’s not always about a bigger opportunity for me. It’s about a bigger party,” Sanchez said. “I’m committed to the cause.”