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Dendahl’s Letter to the Governor

September 29, 2006

By U.S. Mail and facsimile to 505-982-3652

The Hon. Bill Richardson
Bill Richardson for Governor 2006
811 St. Michael’s Drive Ste. 206
Santa Fe, NM 87505

Dear Bill:

Re: Debate challenge

The last incumbent New Mexico governor to have his re-election challenged was Gary Johnson. The year was 1998, the challenger was Martin Chavez, and they held dozens of debates. At the time, Chavez already had under his belt more years of experience in public office than had Johnson. Nonetheless, Johnson’s graciousness with respect to debates with his challenger did not prevent his winning re-election handily.

I find it astonishing that a man of your experience – some 24 years in public office – apparently quakes in fear of debating a man who has never held elective office.

Going into this campaign, I had hoped we would have several debates as I believed that to be in the citizens’ best interests. When you were reported recently to have agreed for the first time to debate, the report included your statement that one would be enough. In view of the extensive media earned by your bobbing and weaving over the format and press coverage to be allowed, I now concede one would, indeed, be enough – the television audience should be enormous just on curiosity alone.

When Congregation Albert commenced arranging the one debate, I stated two conditions: that it be televised in full and that you and I appear at our respective podia unaided by written material, etc. Your response was that neither condition was acceptable. I then backed away from the second. I now take that concession off the table. You (actually one of your myriad spokespersons) have been quoted boasting about “a list of accomplishments 10 miles long,” accompanied by a statement disparaging me as having none. Surely the man picturing himself on the 10-miles-long side of that disparity needs no notes or briefing papers in front of him to share an hour’s discussion of issues important to New Mexicans.

Among reasons advanced by you against a televised debate was your not wanting to give me a hour of free television time. That ridiculous bit of lameness was later modified by adding “to tear down New Mexico,” but that made it no better. I am the one in this scene who has continued a tradition of community service in New Mexico begun more than a hundred years
ago by my great grandfather. You arrived here fewer than 30 years ago for no apparent reason other than seeking public office in Washington, DC.

Excerpts from others’ commentaries on this matter include:

“The governor’s campaign manager, Dave Contarino, says giving Dendahl an hour of free time to tear down the state ‘would do a disservice to voters.’ The real disservice is not giving your boss – in this case the voters – an hour of your time to talk about a list of accomplishments ’10 miles long’ as well as where you want to take the state in the next four years. Besides, it would be good practice come 2008.” Albuquerque Journal, 9-27-06

“This is an amazing slap in the face. Shrouding the excuse under the insulting and ridiculous reasoning that Dendahl would not be able to have a ‘positive sharing of ideas,’ is pure code. It exposes a culture that says our ideas are the only ideas and we don’t need nor want anyone to question them for any reason. That isn’t democracy. It isn’t even good politicking. This is Huey Long behavior, pure and simple.” Columnist Gene Grant, The Albuquerque Tribune, 9-28-06

“Richardson’s camp has tried to put one of the most insulting spins on the episode. They’re saying that Dendahl is too negative and that they don’t want him to tear down the state. And yesterday, they said it was Dendahl who backed out of the debate by refusing to participate in something that would not be televised live so all state voters could see the two in action. The spin is a lie on Richardson’s part. Channel 4 says that it was Richardson who killed the debate by steadfastly refusing to participate in a live, televised debate, or in one that would be broadcast later. And by refusing to debate Dendahl, either live on TV or anywhere else, Richardson has spit in our faces.” Blogger Dennis Domrzalski, Spin Free,, 9-27-06.

The format for formal statements, questions and rebuttals used at Congregation Albert for the September 17 debate between Rep. Heather Wilson and her opponent is fine with me. My other two conditions – full television coverage and clean podia – remain. I look forward to hearing that you will go forward with this debate.


s/ John

John Dendahl

P.S. I recognize that televised events such as debates might produce material useful to your opponents for advertising during the runup to 2008 elections. However, the interests of New Mexico voters today should not be subordinate to protecting your image and ambition for another public office.