Miller Files For House Race

Raam Wong // Published June 5, 2008 in Albuquerque Journal
Independent congressional candidate Carol Miller took the stairs Wednesday to file her nominating petitions at the Secretary of State's third-floor office.

 "This is how you run into people in the House," said Miller, referring to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she wants to serve in the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Tom Udall of Santa Fe.

 Miller believes that sort of knowledge in the ways of Washington will set her apart from the two major-party candidates running in the 3rd Congressional District.

 On Tuesday, first-term Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan won the Democratic nomination for the seat while political newcomer Dan East received the GOP nod.

 The next morning, Miller was up early crunching the election results. Miller believes low turnout in the primary is a sign that voters are hungry for more choices.

 "The real issue today is that 72 percent of voters stayed home in what was supposed to be the primary of the century," said Miller, noting that Lujan nabbed less than 50 percent of the vote in the six- man race.

 Independent candidates hoping for a spot on the general election ballot had to submit 5,779 registered voter signatures Wednesday. Miller said she turned in about 11,000 signatures.

 Candidates generally need to turn in a number of signatures that is substantially more than the required minimum, as many turn out to be invalid for various reasons during the verification process by the secretary of state. Also, rival candidate can challenge the validity of the signatures in court.

 A second independent candidate, small-home builder Ron Simmons of Santa Fe, said he planned to file about 7,500 petition signatures.

 Miller, of Ojo Sarco, racked up a substantial tally in a campaign for the 3rd District seat once before, as a Green Party candidate.

 In a 1997 special election, she won 17 percent of the vote, while Democrat Eric Serna took 40 percent and Republican Bill Redmond won with 43 percent— an upset for the underdog GOP in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

 Democrats blamed Miller for taking enough votes from Serna to catapult Redmond, a conservative Los Alamos minister, to office.

 Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff said third-party or independent candidates can do well when there's disenchantment among rank-and-file party members with their nominee. That was the case with Serna, Sanderoff said.

 "It almost becomes a protest vote," said Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. in Albuquerque.

 Still, Sanderoff said Lujan has received the support of major environmental groups that lend credibility to his campaign, particularly among liberal voters.

 It was just such support that helped Udall in 1998 make peace with progressive voters who abandoned Serna and recapture the seat for the Democrats. Miller got only 4 percent against Udall in 1998.

 Miller criticizes the two-party system and says the state Legislature has only made it more difficult for other candidates to be heard.

 Lawmakers, Miller said, have struck down proposals that would have allowed "rank-choice" voting in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. Also known as instant-runoff voting, the system has been approved for Santa Fe municipal elections.

 Rank-choice voting helps eliminate the "spoiler" label for independent or third-party candidates since voters can list a second- choice vote that counts if the voter's first choice isn't elected—” allowing someone to vote Green as a first choice, for instance, and for a Democrat second, if no one gets a majority in the first round of counting votes.

 But Miller says she can win under the existing election rules.

 "I think people are sick of the parties," she said. Miller said voters are looking for someone qualified for the job and who can work with everybody to get things done.

 Miller believes as an independent she'll be able to work on rural issues important to northern New Mexico that are dominated by Republicans in the U.S. House.

 Among the pillars of her campaign are renewable energy, peace and universal health care. Miller, who works in public health, supports an expansion of Medicare for all Americans. She is founder and executive director of the National Center for Frontier Communities.

 "I'm tired of writing grants about New Mexico always being on the bottom," she said

 She also cites years of experience inside the Beltway lobbying for legislation related to health care, farm policy and other issues as providing the kind of know-how to protect the district's interests.