One of the fanciful myths of Santa Fe politics collapsed this fall. Sincerity, humility and civility were the casualties.

I speak of ranked-choice voting. Advocates claimed the system of voting for more than one candidate for the same office would make campaigns less combative.

Their theory was candidates wouldn’t attack one another or stray from the truth. If they did, they might lose potentially crucial second-place votes.

But the nonpartisan mayoral campaign has proved mudslinging and deceit can occur in any system.

Mayor Alan Webber wrote that QAnon and MAGA “are real in Santa Fe, and they will stop at nothing to take over the Mayor’s office.”

Webber didn’t stretch the truth. He obliterated it. Far-right QAnon and former President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again movement are politically impotent in a city filled with liberals and moderate Democrats.

Webber’s claim was irresponsible on another level. He implied that at least one of his two opponents might be connected to QAnon conspiracy theorists, some of whom were part of the violent group that raided the U.S. Capitol in January.

The other mayoral candidates, City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Alexis Martinez Johnson, have no ties to or sympathies for QAnon.

Vigil Coppler, like Webber, is a Democrat. Martinez Johnson is a Republican who says she condemns violent protests.

Webber’s statement about radicals scheming to take over the mayor’s office wasn’t the only claim lacking evidence.

Vigil Coppler attacked Webber by saying without proof the mayor sidelined city police last year to let a mob destroy the Soldiers’ Monument on the Plaza. Webber said he agreed with the police commanders who ceded the Plaza to lawbreakers. Police standing down prevented injuries, he said.

Webber took a low jab at Vigil Coppler by filing an ethics complaint against a fraternal organization. He claimed the group had improperly colluded with Vigil Coppler’s campaign. The mayor’s evidence was nonexistent, and the city Ethics and Campaign Review Board tossed out his complaint.

Martinez Johnson filed a substantive complaint against Webber for an email blast that connected the mayor’s reelection campaign to two taxpayer-funded events. The board dismissed that complaint, too. It seems unethical campaign tactics aren’t within the purview of the ethics board.

Less animus existed in the 2018 mayoral election, the first time ranked-choice voting was used in Santa Fe. Webber and four other candidates competed in that race.

All of them were cautious. With five candidates, the possibility of second-place votes influencing the outcome was greater.

The candidates didn’t knock one another — at least not publicly. But the flaws of ranked-choice voting were still on display.



In their desire not to offend anyone, the candidates became homogeneous. They revealed less of their character and their platforms.

It took Webber three rounds to win the 2018 election. Second-place votes of trailing candidates put him over the top.

This year’s field of candidates is smaller, and raw emotions are in the open.

Martinez Johnson, who ran for Congress as a Republican in 2020, has had trouble raising money. Worse for her, she’s warred with the Santa Fe County Republican Party while competing against the two Democratic mayoral candidates.

Martinez Johnson said GOP officers haven’t helped her. She blamed Harry Montoya, the man she narrowly defeated in the congressional Republican primary last year. Montoya is first vice chairman of the county Republicans.

Bob Graham, the county Republican chairman, called me Tuesday to criticize Martinez Johnson.

“She’s been less than we hoped for as a candidate,” Graham said. “She wants to fuss and fume rather than actually run a campaign.”

Martinez Johnson told me old rival Montoya had undercut her when Graham was incapacitated for a time.

Graham says only part of Martinez Johnson’s assessment is true. Graham was grievously ill with COVID-19 for about two weeks.

“I looked death in the eye and survived it,” he said.

But, Graham said, the Republican Party did not hamper Martinez Johnson while he recovered. For instance, it assisted her efforts on social media, he said.

Montoya is supporting Vigil Coppler. Graham, despite his negative assessment of Martinez Johnson, is sticking with her.

“I’m supporting her as a candidate. She’s a Republican, and I’m chairman of the party,” Graham said.

With that ringing endorsement, Martinez Johnson appears certain to be eliminated in the first round of balloting. If another round is necessary, voters who backed her will see their second-place votes redistributed to Vigil Coppler or Webber.

Rock-ribbed Republicans might put a Democrat over the top.

Ranked-choice voting can’t guarantee civility or decency, but it might deliver an ending with a wry twist.

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

(15) comments

Grace Trujillo

Ranked-choice voting is ridiculous! I recommend that voters only select who they want and leave the other two blank. If officials do not want to listen to the voters and change to voting system, than we as voters can change it ourselves. VOTE ONE CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR and leave other choices blank. Rank-choice voting is a terrible way to vote.

Joe Brownrigg

Voters chose rank-choice voting, not some nebulous bogeyman.

Rank-choice did not tamp down stupid attacks this time, so I'd conclude (unlike some) that it tamps down stupidity only when there are several candidates. I'm all in favor of it!

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

[thumbup]

Richard Reinders

Joe the public chose rank choice before they truly understood it's pitfalls. All that needs to be done is put up a petition to change it and if the public feels that strong about it it will be done. And Grace I agree.[thumbup]

Joe Brownrigg

This is what many losers say. It's probably not true...AND I think you know it.

Guy Cook

Who really cares what Mr.Simonich thinks?

The paper would be better off without his opinion! Everyone has an opinion; his is no more valid than the man on the street corner.

Really sick of his narrow-minded opinions.

Dennis Romero

Actually, I enjoy reading Milan Simonich's column. I definitely don't agree with him all the time, but he makes me think, and I am grateful for anyone that helps me in that department.

Emily Hartigan

[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

To borrow from the python troupe, sort of.

Who’s that?

Must be a Mayor.

How can you tell?

He hasn’t got sh*t all over him.

Seems that by this measure, we won't have a mayor come November.

Chris Mechels

No mention of Coppler's attempt to raise the Elizabeth Dunham abuse, which Alan was very close to. The New Mexican continues to avoid any mention of Dunham.

Stefanie Beninato

It is great, Milan, that the paper allows you to attack its mayoral candidate of choice. You are not speculating what will happen if people do not use rank choice--that is, vote for Martinez Johnson as a protest vote and then do not second rank anyone. I wonder how that would play out...I noticed you did not bring up V-C's statements on masks, her undying devotion to development etc

Richard Reinders

IMO Webber, just followed MLG lead when she called a bunch of disgruntled Democrats in ABQ QAnon lizards.

B. Rosen

Political discourse in our country has been poisonous for some time now. The problem is not going to be fixed by any changes to our electoral system. People have become so radicalized in their views, so intolerant of others and so often their beliefs are now founded on lies and misinformation. I am not sure we will ever find our way back to a civil exchange of ideas so we can have political campaigns that don’t make everyone ever more angry and disillusioned.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

Sad but true, B.R.

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