The first time I saw Allen Weh was when he addressed a meeting of the Santa Fe County GOP a little over a year ago. Weh was then chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, and as he spoke, my husband leaned over and whispered, “I’ll bet that guy’s a Marine.”
Indeed he is. Not just a Marine, but a decorated combat veteran who served two terms in Vietnam and was recalled to active duty in the Gulf War, in Somalia, and most recently in Iraq in 2003-04. He joined the Marines as an enlisted man, attended OCS and later UNM, and retired with the rank of Colonel.
Here in New Mexico there are no beaches, but Col. Weh hopes to storm the Capitol here in Santa Fe, first in the primary against Doug Turner, Janice Arnold-Jones and Susana Martinez, and then in November against presumed Democratic nominee Diane Denish.
I’ve always been very open about the fact that I am an active, involved Republican. I do not claim impartiality in the governor’s race. I will support whichever Republican is nominated. Thus far I have not publicly endorsed any of the four declared candidates for the Republican nomination, since I have met only three of them personally, and would like to meet the fourth before I make my final decision. Now that I have had the opportunity to speak with Allen Weh at some length, however, I have to say that I am impressed.
Col. Weh graciously gave me almost half an hour of his time on Saturday as he was driving down to Ruidoso, putting in one of many full days spent crisscrossing the state in his truck. He told me that it is not unusual for him to drive 450 miles in a day, meeting with voters from Farmington to Hobbs in hopes of winning their votes in the Republican primary next spring. I was not particularly surprised to hear it, since I myself have run into Weh at Santa Fe events no less than three times since June. This is a man on a mission, clearly.
But what is his mission? The issues page of his comprehensive and well-organized website highlights a number of areas in which he hopes to make an impact as New Mexico’s next governor. The first of these is, perhaps not surprisingly, government corruption. Weh announces on his website that
New Mexicans will see an end to special contracts for big campaign donors and personal friends.
He reiterated this promise during our interview, affirming that businesspeople who contribute to his campaign can expect only one thing from a Governor Weh:
I’m going to create a better business climate, and that’s all.
That better business climate can be created, he believes, by a fiscally responsible budget. This means, Weh believes,
Three simple things: keep taxes in line with the states around us, make our state government lean and efficient, and reduce unnecessary regulations.
Could he give an example, I asked, of unnecessary regulations? He replied that the dairy, agriculture, oil, gas and mining industries were all over-regulated, and that when he meets with businesspeople in these industries throughout New Mexico, they complain about being harassed by regulations that exceed the national standards. Weh believes this places an unfair burden on New Mexico businesses, affirming:
If it’s good enough for the EPA, it ought to be good enough for New Mexico.
This sounds more like the pronouncement of a businessman than a politician. Then again, Allen Weh is not a politician. He is a businessman, the founder and CEO of CSI Aviation Services. He has never held elective office, but did serve as chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party from 2004 until January 2009.
Because 2006 and 2008 were hardly stellar years for Republicans in New Mexico, there are some who hold Weh responsible for the party’s lackluster performance. When I asked Weh how he would respond to such criticisms, he replied:
Most people realize that a state party chairman has no control over national political headwinds, and the headwinds that compelled Republican defeats in 2006 and 2008 were the result of dissatisfaction with the disgraceful behavior of some Republican congressmen, with the failure of some Republicans in office to live up to their principles. It was the result of dissatisfaction with President Bush’s war policies. If someone things I’m powerful enough to compel all the changes in the national political headwinds…
Clearly, this is a man who holds no illusions about being able to “transform” New Mexico. He is not promising Hope and Change, just a government free from corruption and over-regulation.
Education is another area which Col. Weh intends to make a priority if elected. His website affirms that he will expand charter schools and give parents real educational choice. When I asked if this included vouchers, he replied that he thinks vouchers would be a good thing for education in New Mexico, but acknowledged that they will be a hard sell in the legislature, and that charter schools may be the only thing he can realistically hope for. Obviously this is one candidate who understands Harry Callahan’s sage advice: a man’s got to know his limitations.
The last policy area we discussed was public safety. Weh writes on his website that he plans to strengthen state police, which he says in under strength and lacks the resources it needs to protect New Mexico’s rural communities.
I asked him if prison reform would play any role in his public safety policy, and his response was immediate and emphatic:
Absolutely! We need to have a total review of our policy of incarceration, figure out who really needs to be in prison. I want to make sure that the bad people who hurt people, people who are doing violent crimes, are put in prison and kept there. That includes serial burglers.
For non-violent crimes, I’d emphasize some sort of non-incarceration alternative. Weed out less violent offenders. We need to hold them accountable, certainly, but that may not mean sleeping in a bed in a prison cell at night.
A law and order Republican who is passionate about prison reform? A tough, no-nonsense Marine combat veteran who thinks we need a sensitive, nuanced way of dealing with crime rather than just calling for more prisons? Then again, this is a Marine who posts on his Facebook page recipes of meals he enjoys cooking for his wife and family.
Today, Allen Weh stands out among political candidates because of his military background. When I was young, almost every politician was a veteran. Not always a combat veteran, but a veteran who had done military service of one kind or another. This, of course, is no longer the case.
I asked Col. Weh how he thought his military experience had prepared him for the governorship:
There is no question that that experience has given me certain abilities to do things that no one else can unless they’ve had those experiences. If you’ve been shot at, it builds a little character. If you can handle that pressure, you can handle just about anything. The experience of combat enables me to see things differently than a lot of politicians, who see crises everywhere. They get upset and emotional about things that don’t upset me at all. There isn’t anybody I’m afraid of. Nobody. Legislators on the other side of the aisle…I’ll reach out my hand to them, but I’m certainly not afraid of them.
Whether they end up being afraid of him we’ll have to wait and see.