New Mexico’s junior senator, Democrat Ben Ray Luján, knows the state has a double standard for politicians. He continues to exploit it.

With Luján, everything is about money. His abiding interest is collecting cash for his campaigns.

The senator and his handlers sent a solicitation last week with the hackneyed headline, “Dialing for dollars?” Luján’s message was worse than the title.

It stated: “We have fallen behind on our fundraising goals for our upcoming FEC fundraising deadline. This is a real problem, which could endanger everything we’ve worked so hard to build over the last few years.

“Instead of pulling Ben Ray away from doing his job to fundraise, we hope to make up this shortfall with your help.”

What an admission. An ailing country is trying to recover from a pandemic, but Luján’s camp says the senator needs more of your money, or he might ignore the job he was elected to do.

Imagine the backlash if Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell announced she might spend her days soliciting campaign contributions instead of doing her job.

Herrell would take a public whipping. Critics all across New Mexico would call her greedy and pummel her for misguided priorities. Democrats might be incensed enough to find a candidate to run against Herrell, the only Republican in the state’s five-member congressional delegation.

Luján has been a senator for only six months. Yet he’s confident enough in the state’s double standard that he believes most people won’t care if a freshman Democrat puts fundraising ahead of work in the Senate.

As for the deadline Luján mentioned in his plea for cash, it’s not what people in the real world would consider pressing. Luján doesn’t have a reelection campaign until 2026.

He is guaranteed five more years of steady paychecks. Famine, war, pandemics and natural disasters don’t stop members of Congress from collecting a salary.

Luján’s constituents have no such assurance. Many are still trying to find a decent job after being displaced during the pandemic.

Many other members of Congress operate almost like Luján. They’re always asking for money, and they always claim the sky will fall if they don’t get it.

The difference is not many others are brazen enough to announce they might ignore their job so they can solicit donations.

New Mexico’s Republican Party is so weak, it’s bench so thin, that Luján probably doesn’t have to worry about a serious challenger emerging by the 2026 election.

Because state Republicans are inept, I receive more complaints about New Mexico’s other senator, Democrat Martin Heinrich, than I do about Luján.

Heinrich likes to endorse Democrats in contested primaries. Choosing sides is a sure way for a U.S. senator to rile a handful of people in his own political base.

Three years ago, Heinrich backed his pal, Garrett VeneKlasen, for state land commissioner. Supporters of a rival candidate, Stephanie Garcia Richard, rang me day after day. They wanted to know why wasn’t I writing about Heinrich’s unfair decision to play favorites.

The truth is, there was nothing unfair about what Heinrich did. He liked VeneKlasen and he said so.

Another truth was neither I nor most voters gave two cents about Heinrich’s preference for land commissioner.

On Election Day, Heinrich’s endorsement counted for nothing. Garcia Richard defeated VeneKlasen in a close race. The key factor might have been a third candidate, George Muñoz, siphoning enough votes to spoil the election for Heinrich’s candidate.

Heinrich didn’t worry about critics who said he shouldn’t use his right of free speech to influence Democratic primary elections. The senator last year endorsed a dozen candidates for the state Legislature and four others in races for county commissioner.

He’s still at it. Heinrich last week announced he’s backing Raúl Torrez, the Bernalillo County district attorney, for attorney general. The primary election is not until June 2022.

Heinrich weighed in early. Torrez and State Auditor Brian Colón already are campaigning for attorney general.

The Republicans will nominate a tomato can. Anyone with a law degree and a willingness to take a beating will do.

Heinrich’s endorsements are more curious than influential. At least they’re more interesting than Luján’s insidious suggestions that he might lie down on the job unless you pony up.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at

msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(31) comments

joe martinez

Many comments and generalization about rotten pols, "the GOP", rotten system, terrible conditions in NM. All those people in office were chosen by voters voters voters. I wonder how many commenters have been active in party organizations and are really acquainted with the system. Dems own every statewide office and 4 of 5 congressional seats, and the legislature. No one challenged Lujan and presumably all have money, if that is the requirement. I've been around the block a little and running for office is too much like begging. I'd never do it. Our system depends on people who do. As for poor education, I was born and raised here. Talk about poor way back then? Son a pro engineer with graduate degree, and grandson working on grad degree in engineering. Raised and educated right here in NM.

joe martinez

Ben Ray was unopposed in the Dem primary so I assume he's the best you guys have.

Mark Ortiz

"You guys" ??? Anyway, i guess you forgot the , "it goes without saying....." Politics (red, blue, purple) is corrupt with money. This isn't really a democracy anymore. Dem and Repubs are two sides of same coin. The common person couldn't really mount a campaign to primary BRL, so it's disingenuous to say, "the best you guys have." You mean "have" in the context of our current he/she with the most money wins, political system? Right Joe?

Robert Fields

You’re right. Ben Ray is no Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Gym Jordan, Ted Cruz, or any of the other stellar examples of spineless criminals across the aisle.

Mark Ortiz

Of course the completely insane two wrongs make a right crowd is out in full force. In the simplest terms, many things can be true at one. Ben is a power hungry, shameless, entitled, political elite D bag, as well as it's just him playing the game. Repeal Citizen's United. Personally I feel he's not only morally compromised but

Ronchetti gave him a scare.

Craig O'Hare

"Imagine if All Political Commentators Operated with Simonich's Brazeness." What a lame commentary. Sen. Lujan never suggested that fundraising would cause him to "ignore his job." Either Simonich needs a refresher course in reading comprehension or he's deliberately putting words in the Senator's mouth to make him look bad. Either one is unacceptable for a political commentator. Simonich must realize that EVERY politician necessarily has to spend way too much time fundraising, and yes, it means that it does take them away from time they could and should be spending being a legislator. Sen. Lujan is no different than every other politician, R or D, that must fundraise to be competitive come election time. But does Simonich support limiting campaign fundraising? Probably not as the media outlet for which he works gets tens of thousands of dollars in political advertising during campaign season.

Russell Scanlon

My email account has been rendered completely useless by the abundance of political solicitations from all over the USA. So I don’t quite see the outrage here—it seems like a selective and somewhat personal attack. However I agree that as a lifelong Democratic voter living in a Democratic state (finally) that we need to pressure Lujan and others to do something about the abysmal education, poverty, and problems in this state. It’s an an embarrassment to be in a Blue state that ranks below Mississippi in these areas and it needs to change. However—until the GOP renounces the regime of Donald Trump, the most incompetent, divisive, and lethal president in the history of the USA, I won’t even consider voting for ANY Republican. Too bad—competition is generally a good thing for everyone.

Khal Spencer

Abysmal situation and all they do is ask for money so they can keep on keeping on.

Take education. Some like to blame the GOP or conservative Democrats for what's wrong with education but its not so simple. We moved here from as blue a state, Hawai'i, as there is in the Union. Hawai'i's educational system was, when we lived there, nearly as ineptly run and ineffective as ours, so its not a matter of right vs. left.

My wife, a full professor, co-ran the remedial studies program at one of its flagship community colleges. I think it was the biggest program at the school. Hawaii practiced social promotion in K-12 so even though it was giving out high school diplomas, back two decades ago about two-thirds of its high school graduates did not pass the state univ. entrance exam for math and about half flunked it for reading and writing competency. So they got relegated to remediation to fix what the K-12 system broke. Its not like you had to be Albert Einstein to pass those exams, either. So what good was a H.S. diploma? What did it mean?

So what's wrong? Bad teaching paradigms? History of colonization? Inadequate funding to recruit the best teachers? Bungling administrators? Indifferent or overburdened parents? Bored and unmotivated students? All of the above?

I'm actually not a great fan of CRT, but if one looks objectively at places like Hawai'i and New Mexico and asks whether our histories of colonization and Fair Skinned Arrogance are part of a historical context to failure by many who are not the Chosen Ones, my guess is one would have a eureka moment. And as I said, even the bluest of blue states had not figured out how to fix it even though the Dems almost continuously controlled all branches of state government since shortly after the end of WW II when folks like Dan Inouye and Spark Matsunaga came home and took over. Trouble was, money was power in Paradise and those who had circled the wagons against change. Land and Power in Hawaii by George Cooper and Gavan Daws is pretty obsolete, but it told a compelling story Back in the Day. So does Broken Trust: Greed, Mismanagement & Political Manipulation at America’s Largest Charitable Trust, by Sam King and Randy Roth.

We need to stop pointing fingers at the other side, whoever the other side is, and start looking outside the canned rhetoric for answers. But as you said, with the opposition party circling the bowl, we don't have credible alternatives to push the status quo out of its rut.

Emily Hartigan

I'm just learning the N.M. political landscape, so this is useful. S.'s commentary seems unfair, but not pointless. Poverty and education are primary, and does S. think some GOP blank would do better?

joe martinez

Ben Ray knows how to play the game. He learned early on from his old man, Speaker of the NM House for many years. Ben Lujan ran mostly unopposed but accumulated thousands in his campaign war chest. Why? Contributors buying access. Asking for contributions this early won't hurt Ben Ray at all. He'' win as long as he wants to. He went from card dealer, to PRC, to US House, and now to US Senate. How? The voters, the voters, the voters. 75% in this area voting Dem. Look in the mirror folks. Blame Rs to defend your sanctity but it's phony scarecrow. Philosophy in NM now seems mostly about how bad we Republicans are.

Peter Zabriskie

Weak Mr, Simonich! It sounds like you just needed a headline then instead wanted to talk about Senator Heinrich. Who it seems you support if only at a distance. Everybody knows a Senator and the race to be one is all about the money and how big the campaign chest is. That I suggest is why Alexander Hamilton and the Founders wrote in the Constitution that SENATORS should be elected FROM THE ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES IN THE STATE HOUSE! That was to keep the big money out and the little guys in. BUT no let's re-write the Constitution every time our pants get in a twist and make "might makes right", "there's more of us then there are of you", the standard. By the way, that's the difference between democratic function and republican function. But today everything is so upside down the Democrats are republican- they believe in their elected leaders, and the Republicans are democrats -they want to beat you over the head with "I got more people than you", go figure. lol

Khal Spencer

One could understand the constant panhandling for a House candidate as they run every two years. Still, Ben Ray needs the money less than your average New Mexican does as he would most likely be running against that tomato can. I doubt he would even need to advertise. Just have his name on the ballot.

We get the government we deserve. Ben Ray will indeed run against an empty tomato can in 2026. As long as the GOP continues to circle the bowl in both political philosophy and people (even Mark Moores, did a faceplant in his run for the 1st CD), the best we can hope for is either a strong third party or someone else in the D party to challenge Ben in the primary. But either of those other scenerios are less likely than an asteroid impact.

New Mexico recently came up dead last in quality of life in a national ratings magazine.

https://wallethub.com/edu/best-states-to-live-in/62617

Gee, I wonder why.

John Cook

I notice Senator Lujan is on the job enough to round up $30 million for the labs. That spells a lot of jobs for New Mexico. And suggests he is doing his. Complaining about politicians asking for money should lead to calls for public financing of campaigns.

Khal Spencer

Yep. One reason the military-industrial complex will never be shrunk is that for virtually all Congresscritters, regardless of party, the Pentagon and related defense budgets, in our case the military bases and NNSA's labs, are huge pork barrels. You get your national lab, I get my F-35 wing parts, Sen. Joe and Rep. Zelda get their main battle tank, etc. The F-35, aka the plane too expensive to fly (god help the economy if one is shot down) supplies jobs in 45 states. There is a reason for that and I doubt that it is production efficiency.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-trump-tweet-lockheed-martin-f35-20161212-story.html

In spite of more than half a century of being on Uncle Sam's dole (bases, national labs), we continue to circle the bowl in "... a paucity of outside investment, sky high unemployment in a non-diverse economy with too much dependency on the federal government, massive illiteracy, excruciating poverty, high taxes, poor government services, escalating crime, embarrassingly bad academic achievement rates and a provincialism that, if measured accurately, would be completely off the charts." (Stephen Helgeson, Albuquerque Journal).

One could almost make the argument that by being Uncle Sam's welfare state, we ain't pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. However one does that trick.

I don't think anyone can get elected here without professing fealty to the pork barrel system. So we got what we got. Permanent dependence on Federal programs. As long as education remains abysmal, don't expect a lot of high paying, high tech jobs to come here. You need people who can read rather than parade in front of the State Capitol as "Lizard People".

Mike Johnson

You underestimate Ben Pork, he went for $50 BILLION for the labs......

Mike Johnson

Oops, make that $30 BILLION.....

John Cook

Yeah, I was challenged by those numbers. You know....30 million here....30 million there....pretty soon you are talking about real money. But the 30 billion is for all labs, not just New Mexico. In all events, it means good jobs for New Mexico which is one of a Senators jobs. Although I agree with another of your comments about more nuclear weapons being a two (or more) edged sword.

Mike Johnson

So Ben Ray is a politician who thinks everything is about money? How is that different than anyone elected in NM for any role? You better start looking at the others around you who allegedly represent us, but only represent their own greedy selves. Ben Ray is no different than any of them.

Bridget Johnson

The ugly invective in these substance-free comments reflects everything that is wrong with our country.

Carmela Baca

Hilarious and hypocritical. So, it's ok for all these corporations, lobbyists and billionaires to fund republican senators, I e. Koch brothers, etc. That's ok?

Jerry Appel

I'm hoping that Deb Haaland runs against him in six years. He is a long way, five years, from having to worry about raising money and such a demand is repulsive and tone deaf as we recover from the pandemic.

Prince Michael Jauregui

"Money, it's a hit. Don't give me that do goody good bull****"

John McDivitt

[thumbup]Excellent article! As a non-Democrat AND non-Republican I like the objective and lack of invective in this thought piece. Thanks!

Stephen Cockrum

Mr. Simonich: Thank you for pointing out how worthless this elected 'representative' of the people truly is. To be so driven by money and personal gain shows how much of a disservice this individual is to both New Mexico and our Republic.

Scott Smart

As if his fund raising tactics are based on his political affiliation...sad article

Tim Herrera

What do you expect when you come from a money and power hungry family like the Lujans. It started off with the Hispanic version of old Joe Kennedy and continues with the fake son whose insincerity shines through on television. Unless he was to get caught up in a major scandal he will make a career out of the Senate in this pathetic blue state where these brainwashed sheep would vote for the Devil if he had a D behind his name on the ballot. Maybe they already have. Who knows?

Charlotte Rowe

Sour grapes from a failed pol who is frustrated the Lujan is successful. The Lujan haters are pathetically transparent.

mark Coble

He's just like AG Hector Balderas. Not good for NM, it's obvious. Any major heroin dealers ever arrested here? Why not?

Gene Hill

Knowing New Mexico, we are going to be stuck with this mediocre Senator for 30-plus years. Nobody needs campaign money less than Ben Ray.

Devin Bent

The state and national GOP have gone full Trump and give us little choice but to vote for whomever the Democrats put up.

Katherine Martinez

I wouldn't expect anything less from Lujan. I didn't think he would begin being an embarrassment to our State so early on in the game. Pathetic.

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