The Senate’s version of Casey Stengel is on the trail

August 26, 2018

What do U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and the late big-league manager Casey Stengel have in common?

Too much verbiage for Heinrich’s own good.

Stengel, shall we say, had a certain way with words.

“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa,” he said.

His habit of speaking in riddles or contradictions became known as Stengelese. This was just fine on the field or in the clubhouse. Stengel was part of a game. Clarity didn’t matter as much as being colorful, and nothing he said detracted from his genius in running the New York Yankees.

But then Stengelese became popular in politics. Serious people stood at lecterns and imitated Stengel’s failure to communicate.

“Today the real problem is the future,” said the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, a leading practitioner of tangled speech.

Stengel died in 1975 and Daley a year later. But their style lives in campaigns, if you can bear to listen.

Heinrich, a Democrat from Albuquerque who’s running for a second term this fall, did a passable imitation of Stengel and Daley in a recent campaign ad.

“If we plan for what we can be, we won’t lose who we already are,” Heinrich said.

At another point in the same commercial, Heinrich delivered a second pearl: “To protect what we have, we must look to what New Mexico can become.”

His prepackaged campaign is so confusing it sounds like Faulkner wrote the script as a gag.

I plan to ask Heinrich what he’s talking about when I next see him. Face-to-face interviews with candidates are more important than ever. Otherwise, those seeking upper-ticket offices such as the U.S. Senate can run campaigns that consist almost entirely of television and radio ads.

The exception is when a candidate is so uninspiring he can’t raise money to afford time on television. Heinrich’s hapless Republican opponent, Mick Rich, is in that bind.

Rich is cash-poor. He can’t reach large audiences the way Heinrich does, insulated in controlled settings where there are no hard questions.

To counter this, every campaign should be approached as a cross-examination of the candidates.

It’s happening now to Andrea Romero, the Democratic nominee in state House District 46. Romero, her handler and her supporters don’t like it, claiming she’s being picked on.

Romero is in a pressure cooker because she misspent public money as executive director of a useless organization called the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. A state audit attributed almost $27,000 of inappropriate expenditures to Romero and more than $51,000 in misspending to the organization.

Even so, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, recently asked me why others who served on the coalition, such as former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, have not received the level of coverage that Romero has.

I directed Egolf to an entire column I wrote about Los Alamos County Councilor Rick Reiss, who ordered a $28 shot of WhistlePig whiskey while on a coalition junket in Washington, D.C.

As for Gonzales, he is not running for office. He quit the Democratic race for lieutenant governor months ago. If Gonzales were seeking an elected position, he would be the object of as much attention as Romero.

Egolf knows this. Yet he still suggested that Romero, who wants to manage the public’s money as a state legislator, is getting too much scrutiny.

Romero herself is a model of inconsistency.

She called on her primary opponent, Rep. Carl Trujillo, to resign from office after a lobbyist accused him of sexual harassment, dating to 2014. I asked Romero last spring if Trujillo was entitled to due process, since an investigation of the complaint against him had not yet commenced. Romero said she believed the allegations against Trujillo, so he should simply quit, a move that would have handed her the office.

Now, after a damning audit about her own conduct, Romero complains of a rush to judgment against her.

These days, she and her supporters are looking for scapegoats to take the focus off her. Write-in candidate Heather Nordquist is running against Romero.

Heinrich, in contrast, has to stay visible because former Gov. Gary Johnson has joined the Senate race, running as a Libertarian.

Heinrich needs Rich in the field to bottle up any momentum Johnson might have.

But if Heinrich keeps speaking in Stengelese, a reversal is possible.

He just might turn a runaway into a contest.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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