Tuesday, January 26, 2010

State Senate Race

I got some real good advice about my coverage of local politics today.

I get a lot of criticism.

Trust me, a lot.

When its constructive, I really do appreciate it. The critique I got today was very well deserved and opened my eyes to something I was doing that I hadn't really noticed was happening at that time. As a result, I'll tighten up my shot group.

People have come to read my blog because of my coverage of local politics and lately I have been a little focused on the race for County Attorney. I don't regret my coverage for one minute, and will continue to cover it. But I really should write a little more about some of the other races, especially during this campaign season.

So lets examine the state senate race which is a race to determine the successor to Senator Eliot Shapleigh.

The Republicans have Dan Chavez.

The Democrats have Jose Rodriguez, Louis Irwin, and Liza Montelongo.

Jose Rodriguez is the favorite in this race and the likely victor. Irwin and Montelongo have several obstacles to overcome in order to make this race competitive.

One of the candidates has a stronger academic background than the front-runner and the other candidate has more policy-making experience.

Rodriguez has more name recognition, money, and has a bigger base of supporters. Rodriguez is the only candidate in the race that has won a county-wide election. In fact, he's won several as El Paso's long-time County Attorney.

Montelongo has little money and Irwin even less. Montelongo has a base of supporters as a member of the Ysleta Independent School District Board of Trustees. Her base is decidedly smaller than Rodriguez's but its something she can build on.

Irwin has run for office before but hasn't made it in to the win column as of yet.

The challenge for Montelongo and Irwin, in addition to the aforementioned obstacles, is how to distinguish themselves from Rodriguez in terms of policy. For the most part, the candidates all sound the same. The reason is that there hasn't been much discussion of specificity when it comes to policy and their individual agendas.

Without specificity, there really isn't a way for the candidates to separate from their opponents. Then there's the problem with not having the money to get that message out to the public.

But the fact that there isn't much specificity from the senate candidates is a bit of a self-inflicted wound. The candidates don't really do much to talk about specificity when given the opportunity. That's their own fault.

Louis Irwin

Irwin is the only candidate that I have heard any amount of specificity from. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details and Irwin's specificity may not endear him to a lot of voters, mostly because he has the courage to tell the truth, increased taxes may be something we see in the horizon. Republicans in this state will probably do anything they can to prevent that, but Irwin has very boldly made it part of his platform.

He talks about making cuts and other complexities of a budget plan, but the only thing voters are going to hear is a tax increase.

Liza Montelongo

Montelongo's danger is that she's one-dimensional. She has a strong command of education issues but has to hit the books on some of the other issues affecting the state and the region. She'll be on my program later this week, but I did have an opportunity to interview her last week.

She got me confused with another host, the new Hector. Eventually she figured out who I was and we spoke briefly. For the most part she did pretty well, but she stumbled on a question that EVERY candidate for any office should be able to answer.

I asked her what is the first bill she would introduce if she were elected senator. She wasn't able to answer the question. I'll give her another stab at it when she comes on my program on Thursday.

Each of the candidates have to get voters to take their candidacies seriously. Many thing Montelongo is not ready and Irwin is not viable. Their campaigns have to change that sentiment among the voters.

Rodriguez's opponents are under the impression that Rodriguez is taking them lightly and seem bothered by that fact. If he's taking them lightly, that is a good thing for Montelongo and Irwin. Honestly, if Rodriguez is taking them lightly its not something he'd ever admit publicly, but it wouldn't be surprising.

Jose Rodriguez

Rodriguez's biggest threat is falling asleep at the wheel. He will likely win without a run-off, but we are starting to see a bit of a slate arise that is attempting to make this election a referendum on Team Shapleigh. If you listen to people like Rick Ledesma and Theresa Caballero when they campaign, you will notice that they blur the lines of the campaigns and will frequently mention candidates from races they are not involved in.

Rodriguez has to keep his eye on that and not be drawn in to the deep waters of crazy. Rodriguez has to show that he will be his own guy and not just a brown extension of Senator Shapleigh, which is exactly what some people will attempt to portray him as. It would be unfortunate if that happened because Rodriguez has a very compelling story, going from the fields as a migrant farmworker and likely to Austin as our next senator.

The big money guys in town are backing Rodriguez and that opens him up to a critique of an association with Republican money-bags in a mostly-Democratic town.

Its not impossible for Irwin or Montelongo to win, but a lot of things have to go their way in order for them to get to victory circle.

No candidate should simply waltz right in to office and our community deserves to have a rigorous debate about ideas. Even if they don't win, Montelongo and Irwin can serve the community by raising issues, forcing a detailed debate, and giving voters something to think about when they vote.

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