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Year of the woman becoming annual political event

May 14, 2019

Many people say nothing changed in New Mexico during the last decade.

They usually mean the economy stagnated, barely registering a heartbeat compared to the pounding pace in neighboring states. That’s true.

Another form of change has been impressive, though.

In 2009, New Mexico lacked diversity in its politicians. It had never elected a woman as governor in 97 years of statehood.

New Mexico residents have since elected two female governors, one from each major party.

Ten years ago, the state’s two U.S. senators and its three members of the U.S. House of Representatives were all men and all Democrats.

New Mexico’s delegation is still made up of five Democrats, but now two House members are women.

Deb Haaland represents the Albuquerque-centered 1st District. Xochitl Torres Small is the congresswoman in the 2nd District that stretches across Southern New Mexico.

Both are freshmen. Haaland won her seat easily. Torres Small was elected in a mild upset, capturing a district that Republicans had held all this century except for two years.

Torres Small and Haaland were part of what was erroneously called “The Year of the Woman” in politics. It was the wrong label because there have been many years of the woman in U.S. elections.

Perhaps none was more celebrated than 1992. In the U.S. House of Representatives, new women candidates won 27 seats that year — more than in all of the ’80s.

Part of the reason was widespread discontent with how the male-dominated Senate handled Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court.

More periods of women making sizable gains in politics followed. The biggest one yet could be in 2020.

Forecasting winners in elections that are more than a year away is only a little easier than trying to make a living by playing a slot machine.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine that four of the five congressional seats could be held by women once the votes are counted in 2020.

Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the secretary of state, is a contender for the U.S. Senate.

Haaland will be an overwhelming favorite to keep her House seat. Torres Small will face a barrage of attack ads by Republicans. But her Republican opponent also could be a woman, as was the case in 2018.

No woman has ever represented Northern New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, formed in 1983. Chances are decent or better that a woman can break through in 2020.

Attorney Teresa Leger is in the race and building a base. Then last week, former CIA officer Valerie Plame declared her candidacy. Both are Democrats.

Plame, a resident of Santa Fe, said in an interview that she believes the primary election will be packed with Democratic candidates. If the field reaches more than a half-dozen, name recognition will become more important than usual.

Plame, an author and the subject of a feature film, has celebrity status among the candidates. She became well-known after the George W. Bush administration revealed her secretive job in a political maneuver designed to tar her then-husband, Joe Wilson, who had written critically of the George W. Bush administration.

Scooter Libby, an attorney and adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury and obstruction in leaks of classified information about Plame.

A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee attacked Plame a day after she announced her candidacy, reviving allegations of anti-Semitism for her tweets and links to published material. This will be a persistent knock on Plame.

She and Leger might not be the only two women in the 3rd District congressional race. The field will probably settle before Labor Day.

A gender mix would be unusual for the Democratic primary. Bill Richardson dominated the 3rd District for its first 15 years before moving on to other jobs, including two terms as governor. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who has held the seat for 10 years, is giving it up to run for the Senate.

No matter how the competition shapes up, Democratic women in the primary are a safe bet to outnumber all manner of Republicans.

The rise of women candidates has done little to inspire Republicans. Their effort is so minimal, and so disorganized, there might never again be a year of the GOP.

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