New Mexico Republicans Wary of Pro-Drug Governor

By Richardson, Valerie | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 14, 2000 | Go to article overview

New Mexico Republicans Wary of Pro-Drug Governor


Richardson, Valerie, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


SANTA FE, N.M. - If you think your job's tough, try walking a mile in Kevin Moomaw's hiking boots.

As executive director of the New Mexico Republican Party, Mr. Moomaw was blindsided last summer when Republican Gov. Gary E. Johnson announced, amid great national fanfare, that he supports legalization of marijuana and heroin.

"When the governor did that, I was less than a happy camper," Mr. Moomaw, a Texas transplant, admitted in his deadpan drawl.

Mr. Moomaw has since been saddled with the unenviable task of trying to support the governor while distancing the party from his pro-drug stance. Raising the stakes is that 2000 is a critical election year in New Mexico. All 112 seats in the state House and Senate are up for grabs in November, and the outcome could determine which party wins the advantage in next year's redistricting process.

"Gary Johnson is known as an independent-thinking type of individual. People understand that Gary is Gary," said Mr. Moomaw. "Ronald Reagan once said that if you and I agree eight out of 10 times, I'm your friend. Well, we agree with the governor more often than that."

That probably won't be enough to sidetrack the Democrats, who are eager for payback after waging a blood feud in the legislature with Mr. Johnson for five years. "It's very clear to me that a plausible argument can be made that the New Mexico Republican Party is the drug-legalization party," said David Alire Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Democratic Party. "It very well could damage their candidates by association."

Indeed, New Mexico may be the only state in the union where the Republican Party is in danger of losing the family-values issue to the Democrats. In addition to his libertarian views on drugs, the maverick governor is well-known here for his advocacy of casino gambling on Indian reservations.

"The Democrats think they have the morality card," said Chris Garcia, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico. "They can say, `Look, [Mr. Johnson] is in favor of gambling. He's in favor of drugs. He's for every vice you can think of.'

"He's a very unorthodox person. He's our Jesse Ventura," said Mr. Garcia, referring to the professional wrestler turned Minnesota governor.

The drug issue put the unconventional Mr. Johnson in the national spotlight, where his remarks became fodder for talk shows and late-night comics. The Libertarian Party tried to draft him as their presidential candidate, an offer he rejected, while the White House drug policy chief, retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, dubbed him "Puff Daddy."

Jittery Republicans are taking comfort in the knowledge that Mr. …

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