Webber: Business skills are important for state's leader [The Santa Fe New Mexican :: ]
(Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 11--The job of the governor goes beyond just running executive departments, Alan Webber says.
"Part of being governor is being CEO of the state. Part of it is being chief marketer of the state and telling the stories about New Mexico's history, culture, traditions all across the country," he said. A governor should be involved in "branding, marketing and shining a light on all our successes."
Coming from the world of business, Webber's vocabulary is popping with words like branding, marketing, leveraging, stakeholders, opportunity -- and phrases like "economy of ideas" and "improving the readiness of our workforce."
It's his experience as an entrepreneur, Webber says, that sets him apart from the other candidates.
In a primary contest in which the biggest problem for most of the Democrats is name recognition, Webber started out as the most unknown of all.
A native of St. Louis, he has only been in the state for a little over a decade, moving to Santa Fe from Boston in 2003. He worked for city government in Portland, Ore., in the 1970s -- and has held other government jobs like working in the U.S. Department of Transportation and writing speeches for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis before Dukakis ran for president. But this is his first run for office.
"I didn't move to New Mexico to run for office," he said in a recent interview. "I moved to New Mexico because I wanted to live the rest of my life here and I love the state."
Shortly before moving here, Webber made millions when he sold Fast Company, the business magazine he had co-founded a decade before. While he has said he won't self-finance his gubernatorial bid, Webber said he'd be "putting my own skin in the game." His first campaign finance report, filed last month, showed Webber and his wife, Frances Diemoz, contributed or loaned the campaign more than $450,000.
But even without his own money, Webber raised more contributions than all his primary rivals, much of it from out of state.
During his first decade in Santa Fe, Webber did little to call attention to himself.
A search of The New Mexican's archives yielded few mentions of Webber during his early years here. In 2011, the paper published a letter to the editor from him that was critical of Santa Fe Public Schools. In June 2013, the paper listed him as a speaker, talking about education, at the Kids Count Conference in Albuquerque.
Three months later, he was running for governor.
One of Webber's top campaign contributors, Bill Miller, board chairman of Creative Santa Fe, a nonprofit that promotes the city's creative industries, said he didn't really know Webber well until he asked him to help with Creative Santa Fe. The two have a mutual friend, former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste, who now lives in Colorado, Miller said.
Webber, he said, "was kind enough to lend his expertise" to the nonprofit when Miller took over as board chairman in 2011. "He knows a lot of people. He was a resource for me."
While his name recognition is low, Webber has one advantage that most his rivals don't: Money.
Perhaps it's his financial resources that seems to worry Martinez's campaign. While the Martinez campaign has attacked other Democratic opponents as well, Webber seems to have attracted the most fire. From the beginning, the governor's organization has been relentless in trying to define Webber before he gets a chance to introduce himself to voters.
Only minutes after Webber announced his candidacy last year, a spokesman for Martinez blasted out a news release saying Webber represents "the extreme fringe of the Democratic Party" because of his "radical ideology."
Team Martinez immediately pointed to a memo Webber had written more than 40 years ago advocating decreased automobile usage in Portland. They also attacked Webber over a March 2012 column in USA Today, in which he wrote, "I want higher gas prices. At least for a while."
In the piece, Webber explained he wanted higher prices long enough "for us to get the market signals right and to continue to wean ourselves off our fossil fuel addiction. The way I see it, every time we've been confronted by an energy crisis, Americans have ... figured out for ourselves how to be innovative, resilient and sensible."
Webber now says he was trying to be "a little provocative" when he said he wanted higher gas prices. He said his main point was to use the spike in gas prices to encourage a serious national discussion about a long-term energy policy.
Martinez spokesmen have accused Webber of calling for a 50-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax increase. Webber said when he worked for the federal Transportation Department in the late '70s in the Carter administration, there were proposals for gradually increasing the gasoline tax to 50 cents. But these never came to pass. Webber said he's never advocated raising the state tax.
But Webber has had to face a whisper campaign with insinuations far darker than arguments over gas prices. When he was in Portland, he was a policy adviser to Neil Goldschmidt, who later went on to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and governor of Oregon. Decades later, it was revealed that Goldschmidt had been involved in an illegal sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl.
There's no evidence that Webber knew about this before the story broke in 2004. But he's caught grief for a blog post he wrote in 2008 saying his former mentor -- who he didn't name -- was involved in a "sexual scandal."
Shortly before the Democratic pre-primary convention in March, an anonymous email began to circulate blasting Webber for downplaying the seriousness of the offense. Webber sent his own email to delegates saying, "I used the wrong words. It was a terrible crime. That's what I should have called it."
Finding out about Goldschmidt's predatory relationship was "a complete shock," Webber said recently. "I still get a stomachache when I think about it."
Last month, Martinez's campaign ripped into Webber for accepting the endorsement of Mark Rudd -- a former member of the radical group Weather Underground -- who taught math at an Albuquerque community college for 27 years and long ago renounced the Weathermen.
Webber's campaign shot back with a fundraising letter that brought up old scandals and criminal cases involving some of Martinez's aides, calling them a "fraternity of misogynistic thugs."
Asked about that counterpunch, Webber said, "I'm not going to launch attacks against anyone. But I'm not going to take lightly ad hominem attacks from bullies."
Contact Steve Terrell at email@example.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.
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