Commentary: In 2002, Steve Pearce beat John Arthur Smith in what I believe was the most important election in southern New Mexico of the past two decades.
The seat in Congress that both men were running for was open for the first time since 1980. That was the year Harold Runnels died three months before the election. Runnels was so firmly entrenched that Republicans hadn’t even planned to contest him.
Joe Skeen launched a write-in campaign to win the seat, then went on to hold it for 11 terms. Runnels, a Democrat, and Skeen, a Republican, combined to hold the seat from 1970 until that election in 2002. It seemed clear that voters in the district were more loyal to the person than the party.
I figured whoever won that year would be able to settle in. Pearce served for eight terms, and would probably be the incumbent today if not for his ambition for other offices.
With a win this year, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small may also be able to settle in.
Torres Small defeated Yvette Herrell as part of the blue wave election of 2018, when Democrats flipped 41 seats in the House. The race was so close that it wasn’t decided until absentee ballots in Dona Ana County were counted the day after the election.
This year’s election will be a rematch. Herrell is coming off a bruising primary campaign against Claire Chase that seemed to be a contest as to which was more unquestioningly loyal to the president.
Both Torres Small and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are now facing the same accusation: they might not be radical socialists, but they are under the control of more powerful forces in the Democratic Party who are.
Which is probably why you can’t turn on your TV these days without seeing a commercial of Torres Small shooting up the desert (in an environmentally responsible way, I’m sure) to demonstrate her support for gun rights. Or crawling across an oil rig to demonstrate her support for fracking.
I’m not suggesting that those commercials are disingenuous. They’re not. But, like all political ads, they’re incomplete. Yes, you oppose a ban on fracking, but what about produced water? And climate change? Yes, you support gun rights, but what about bumpstocks?
Torres Small’s voting record her first term was that of a centrist. That’s probably best reflected by her split votes on the two gun safety bills passed by the House and stalled in the Senate. She voted for the bill to require background checks for weapons sales online and at gun shows, but was one of seven Democrats to vote against a bill that would have expanded the time allowed for background checks from three days to 10.
That bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Clyburn in honor of the nine people killed in a Charleston, South Carolina AME church. The FBI should have stopped the purchase of one of the guns used in that slaughter, but did not complete its background check within the required three days.
For many Democrats who worked hard to help Torres Small get elected, that vote was disappointing. And the split vote did nothing to win support from Republicans or the NRA, which has given her a “D” rating.
Political extremists promise instant results and dramatic change, which is why they are much more exciting. But only for one side.
Centrists can be frustrating for both sides. I suppose that’s the whole idea.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.