Candidate takes heat for last-minute cancellation

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By David Giuliani

The state’s chamber of commerce is taking heat for canceling a forum at the last minute after one of the congressional candidates decided against showing up.

For more than a month, the Association of Commerce and Industry and the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce had planned a candidate forum for northern New Mexico’s four congressional candidates, Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, Republican Dan East and two independents, Carol Miller and Ron Simmons.

The forum was set to take place Wednesday night in Clovis. But the event was canceled Tuesday morning after Lujan reportedly told the ACI he had scheduling conflicts.

Lujan is widely believed to have the greatest chance of winning in the 3rd Congressional District, which is heavily Democratic. Clovis, however, is more conservative than much of the district.

East, who was campaigning in Las Vegas on Wednesday, told the Optic it appears that Lujan doesn’t want to leave his “comfort zone” of Santa Fe. He said he read the “riot act” to the ACI for canceling the whole event based on one candidate’s last-minute withdrawal.

“I don’t know if he’s scared to face me or if he is scared to face his constituents. He showed up last night in Santa Fe for the ACI forum, but that was ‘safe’ territory for him; a third of the audience was his family or staff,” East said in a statement. “His handlers are afraid to let him get outside of the Santa Fe area.”

Of the six forums so far, Lujan has shown up at just two, East said.

Miller said in a press release that she was disappointed in the ACI’s decision “to accommodate a single candidate without consultation with the remaining candidates.”

“We all agreed to be there,” she said in the statement.

Miller said Lujan had plenty of opportunities to inform the organization that there were scheduling conflicts.

She said Lujan performed poorly in the ACI’s forum in Santa Fe earlier this week, even though he reportedly read from prepared statements.

“It is no surprise that he backed out of the forum in Clovis at the last possible moment. It is disappointing that the other candidates were not given the opportunity to participate as scheduled at the agreed-upon time and place,” Miller said in the press release.

Beverlee McClure, head of the ACI, said in a statement that it was the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce that made the decision to cancel. She stated that Lujan and the two U.S. Senate candidates, Republican Steve Pearce and Democrat Tom Udall, were unable to attend.

However, it has been common knowledge statewide that Udall and Pearce wouldn’t be debating this month, other than a possible faceoff on the national TV news show, “Meet the Press.”

McClure said another date would be set for the candidates forum.

Ernie Kos, executive director of the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce, said her group was told by the ACI on Monday night that Lujan and the two Senate candidates weren’t going to attend. She said the chamber had promoted the event heavily in Clovis.

“We were disappointed ourselves,” she said.

Mark Nicastre, Lujan’s spokesman, issued a statement to the Optic on the issue, but he wouldn’t say what the scheduling conflict was for Lujan, a member of the Public Regulation Commission.

“Commissioner Lujn already has and will continue to participate in forums. He participated in one this week, participated in numerous forums and debates during the primary and will be participating in some forums and debates in the future as his busy schedule allows,” Nicastre said.