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For silliness in politics, look to Texas

September 2, 2018

Lately I’ve complained a lot about how frivolous some of the politics in New Mexico have been this year.

The governor’s race, for instance, often seems to have devolved into faux outrage from both sides over “gotcha” gaffes from their opponents (Democrats are portraying Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce as being somewhere between George Wallace and David Duke because he recently use the phrase “the minorities” to describe, uh, minority groups) and hyperventilating overreaction to developments like Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s bringing back straight-party voting (“An attack on our democracy,” Pearce claimed).

But looking at recent silliness in the U.S. Senate race in our neighboring state of Texas, I’ve concluded that New Mexico has a long way to go in terms of frivolity.

Lone Star Republicans recently have attacked Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke — who’s trying to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz — for having been in a punk rock band in his younger days, tweeting out old photos of a long-haired O’Rourke with his band, Foss.

A punk rocker in the U.S. Senate! This cannot stand! Talk about attacks on our democracy. …

Maybe it’s because I’ve been involved with music in one way or another for most of my adult life, but attacks on politician-musicians always has stuck in my craw. The implication is that being a musician somehow makes you less serious, less credible, less mature.

But New Mexico has had at least a couple of guitar-slinging, high-ranking public officials.

The first politician I ever interviewed at the Roundhouse, back in 1980, was then-Lt. Gov. Roberto Mondragón, who had just released one of his albums of Spanish-language songs. Mondragón told me that he got so tired of people asking him in a condescending manner, “Where’s your guitar, Bob?” that he started bringing it to work. So when people asked him about his guitar, he’d answer, “It’s down in my truck. Should I go get it?”

I actually wrote a whole column, back in 2004, about Mondragón singing “De Colores” with a mariachi band at a campaign appearance by Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark. It was my favorite moment from that year’s New Mexico presidential caucus.

“Mondragón and the mariachis then proceeded to sing three or four other tunes. He even got [then-Santa Fe Mayor] Larry Delgado to help him out in ‘The Fiesta Song.’ Delgado, former Gov. Jerry Apodaca and state Sen. Mary Jane Garcia swayed along with the music, playing The Pips to Mondragón’s Gladys Knight.”

Another musical official is Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels, who is retiring at the end of the year. Besides his legal career, Daniels is a country-rocker, playing for years in the Albuquerque-based band Lawyers, Guns and Money. A few years ago, I talked to Daniels about this. What’s the big deal? Daniels said. “Some people play golf, I play guitar.”

Nationwide, there have been several politicos involved in music. Former U.S. Sen. John Kerry in his youth played bass in a surf band called The Electras. The late Sen. Robert Byrd played fiddle, releasing an album called Mountain Fiddler backed by ace bluegrass pros.

Then there’s Jimmie Davis, a two-term governor of Louisiana, who co-wrote and performed, “You Are My Sunshine.” When he first ran for governor in 1944, Davis sang that song on the campaign trail. However, some of his earlier, more risqué songs stirred up trouble. In his 1977 book Country: The Biggest Music in America, author Nick Tosches wrote, “The opposition ran advertisements in newspapers listing some of his older, profaner songs. (His 1936 ‘Bed Bug Blues’ was called ‘depraved vulgarity.’)”

But Dems aren’t the only ones who have mixed music and politics. Who can forget former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee playing bass on his old Fox News show with Ted Nugent’s band? Somehow there was no major Republican reaction outage over Huckabee smiling as Nugent sang lyrics that some might describe as “depraved vulgarity” in the song “Cat Scratch Fever.”

No, the GOP was more upset about President Barack Obama’s taking the stage with Al Green in the Apollo Theater in 2012, singing a few lines of “Let’s Stay Together.” Then presidential candidate Newt Gingrich grumbled, “I’m not going to compete with Obama in singing, because I’m not running for entertainer in chief. I’m running for president.”

How’d that work out, Newt?

For his part, O’Rourke isn’t apologetic about his punk-rock past. He recently shared with Rolling Stone a digital track from Foss’ 1999 EP, The El Paso Pussycats.

Besides, O’Rourke supporters retaliated against Texas Republicans by digging out old photos of Ted Cruz as a white-faced mime.

Punk rock is one thing, but that’s not nearly as weird as being a mime.

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