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COLUMN: Stardom can help in politics

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Actor Val Kilmer just keeps on coming. Last week he dropped in at the state Capitol for visits with Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Phil Griego, who represents the area where Kilmer lives.

The governor is an admirer of Kilmer’s. Griego isn’t. Kilmer has been quoted in national publications making disparaging remarks about residents of San Miguel County and about Vietnam vets.

Kilmer says both quotes couldn’t be further from the truth. Griego isn’t giving him the benefit of the doubt. Kilmer volunteered to write a letter in support of one of Griego’s bills. Griego was appreciative.

Kilmer also dropped by the House chambers and was introduced. He hasn’t made an appearance in the Senate yet.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who presides over that body, made her gubernatorial intentions public long ago and has raised over $2 million for her campaign already. Senators are having fun joking that Kilmer is afraid of setting foot in their territory.

Blogger Joe Monahan says Kilmer is being seen increasingly in the company of political operatives who are showing him the ropes and doing some informal consulting.

The next step, says Monahan, would be forming an exploratory committee, which will enable him to start raising some money. It’s not that Kilmer couldn’t afford to self-finance a campaign but if he’s smart, he knows he needs to demonstrate an ability to raise funds from others before people start taking him seriously.

The actor has 1,800 acres of his 6,000 acre ranch on the Pecos River for sale. Rumor has it that this would be his campaign money. But it certainly didn’t start out that way.

Kilmer put the land on the market three years ago when he had two major movie roles back to back and saw himself having less time to enjoy the ranch.

Those roles are behind him and he’s now doing voices for cartoons. Kilmer gained considerable weight for one of those roles. Some observers have suggested that we’ll know when Kilmer is serious about running for governor when he starts taking that weight back off.

But maybe it is the other way around. Maybe Kilmer has grown tired of the constant weight gains and losses required for differing roles and wants to settle back into something more comfortable like running for governor.

After all, New Mexicans have grown accustomed to a governor with some extra pounds on him. Kilmer would have to give up taking major roles if he were to become governor and maybe this is his way of doing it.

Kilmer says if he runs, he’ll win. He says actors always win, citing Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood. Hard to argue with that. Had Schwarzenegger been born an American citizen, he just might be our president now.

I can add some others. Fred Thompson was a Hollywood actor before becoming a senator from Tennessee. He then did “Law and Order” on TV before unsuccessfully running for president.

But TV isn’t the kiss of death. Fred Grandy left his role as Gopher on “Love Boat” to serve four terms in Congress from Iowa. He then ran for governor and narrowly lost the primary.

Sonny Bono served as mayor of Palm Springs before going to Congress where he still would be serving were it not for a skiing accident. His widow Mary still holds the seat.

Sports heroes also win political races. Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley was a senator from New Jersey for years before running for president. Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning is a senator from Tennessee.

And football Hall of Famer Steve Largent represented Oklahoma in Congress for eight years before an unsuccessful run for governor.

Maybe the mystique wears off these guys after they leave the entertainment field but it surely helps them get in.

There is one similarity about all these guys, however, that Kilmer lacks. Every last one of them is a Republican.

Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist in Santa Fe. He may be reached by e-mail to insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.