Politics

CD3 race: Outed CIA agent Plame launches Democratic bid in race for Luján's seat

By Steve Terrell
sterrell@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 5/14/19

Outed CIA agent Plame launches Democratic bid, says she sees opportunity to 'serve my country again'

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Politics

CD3 race: Outed CIA agent Plame launches Democratic bid in race for Luján's seat

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Valerie Plame – a former CIA agent now running for Congress as a Democrat in Northern New Mexico's 3rd District – said she never really thought of running for office until earlier this year, when incumbent U.S. Sen. Tom Udall announced he wouldn't seek reelection to a third term.

"Absolutely not," she said in an interview Thursday morning, when asked if she'd had congressional ambitions for a long time. "When people asked me if I was interested [in running for office], I'd look at them like they were mad."

But after Udall's announcement – and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján's announcement a few days later that he'd run for Udall's Senate seat instead of seeking another term in the House – she changed her mind, Plame said.

She said she saw the political shake-up as an opportunity to "serve my country again."

Plame was born at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, into a military family. She went to high school in a suburb of Philadelphia and then enrolled at Penn State.

Asked when she joined the CIA, Plame said she wasn't allowed to say. "But I think you could find that easily," she added.

(She was right. She first started working for the agency in 1985.)

In a statement announcing her candidacy, Plame, 55, said, "My career in the CIA was cut short by partisan politics, but I'm not done serving our country. We need more people in Congress with the courage to stand up for what's right."

In 2003, Plame was exposed as a CIA operative by officials with the George W. Bush administration in an effort to discredit her then husband, Joe Wilson, a former ambassador who had written an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

In early 2002, the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate a claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy enriched "yellow cake" uranium. Wilson concluded the story was false. His New York Times piece detailed his trip to Niger and accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat of Iraq to justify going to war.

Soon after, White House officials informed some reporters and right-wing columnist Robert Novak that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Novak publicly identified Plame in a column shortly after.

Plame resigned from the CIA in 2005; a year later, she, Wilson and their twins, now 19-year-old Trevor and Samantha, moved to Santa Fe.

The move came "the day after Vice President [Dick] Cheney's chief aide, Scooter Libby, was convicted for his role in outing my true CIA identity," Plame pointed out Thursday.

Now, she said, "Santa Fe is my home."

After settling in Santa Fe, Plame and Wilson were no hermits. They appeared at countless charity events, public discussions and political events. Plame has spoken at more than one local high school's graduation ceremony.

She and Wilson joined other celebrities, including Jane Fonda and Ali MacGraw, in reading from Eve Ensler's collection of essays, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, at a charity event at the New Mexico Museum of Art in 2007.

Plame served on the board of the United Way of Santa Fe County and has worked as a consultant for the Santa Fe Institute, a local think tank.

While living here, she also wrote a book about her outing as a spy – Fair Game was made into a 2010 movie starring Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as Wilson.

And Plame co-authored two fictional spy thrillers with Santa Fe novelist Sarah Lovett.

She and Wilson legally separated in 2017, court records show, and their $2.1 million home on Santa Fe's northeast side has been on the market since last year. The couple was granted a divorce in January.

Plame is well-known in Santa Fe and has name recognition nationally, but will that be enough for an Anglo, who's a relative newcomer to the area and doesn't speak fluent Spanish, to win the largely Hispanic Congressional District 3?

Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said in an interview Thursday that Plame's name recognition probably isn't as great in rural parts of the district, which includes conservative enclaves like Farmington and Clovis. Her base will be progressive Anglo transplants in Santa Fe, Sanderoff said.

"The question is whether she can grow that base among Hispanics and Native Americans," he added.

That answer will depend on who else enters the race.

So far, Plame's opponents include state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, former Navajo Nation presidential and vice presidential candidate Dineh Benally, and
Santa Fe lawyer Teresa Leger. Gavin Kaiser of Santa Cruz has filed a statement of candidacy for the House seat with the Federal Election Commission, and District Attorney Marco Serna of Santa Fe has launched an "exploratory committee" for a possible congressional race.
 
***
But after Udall's announcement -- and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján's announcement a few days later that he'd run for Udall's Senate seat instead of seeking another term in the House -- she changed her mind, Plame said.

She said she saw the political shake-up as an opportunity to "serve my country again."

Plame was born at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, into a military family. She went to high school in a suburb of Philadelphia and then enrolled at Penn State.

Asked when she joined the CIA, Plame said she wasn't allowed to say. "But I think you could find that easily," she added.

(She was right. She first started working for the agency in 1985.)

In a statement announcing her candidacy, Plame, 55, said, "My career in the CIA was cut short by partisan politics, but I'm not done serving our country. We need more people in Congress with the courage to stand up for what's right."

In 2003, Plame was exposed as a CIA operative by officials with the George W. Bush administration in an effort to discredit her then husband, Joe Wilson, a former ambassador who had written an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

In early 2002, the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate a claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy enriched "yellow cake" uranium. Wilson concluded the story was false. His New York Times piece detailed his trip to Niger and accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat of Iraq to justify going to war.

Soon after, White House officials informed some reporters and right-wing columnist Robert Novak that his wife worked for the CIA. Novak publicly identified Plame in a column shortly after.

Plame resigned from the CIA in 2005; a year later, she, Wilson and their twins, now 19-year-old Trevor and Samantha, moved to Santa Fe.

The move came "the day after Vice President [Dick] Cheney's chief aide, Scooter Libby, was convicted for his role in outing my true CIA identity," Plame pointed out Thursday.

Now, she said, "Santa Fe is my home."

After settling in Santa Fe, Plame and Wilson were no hermits. They appeared at countless charity events, public discussions and political events. Plame has spoken at more than one local high school's graduation ceremony.

She and Wilson joined other celebrities, including Jane Fonda and Ali MacGraw, in reading from Eve Ensler's collection of essays, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, at a charity event at the New Mexico Museum of Art in 2007.

Plame served on the board of the United Way of Santa Fe County and has worked as a consultant for the Santa Fe Institute, a local think tank.

While living here, she also wrote a book about her outing as a spy -- Fair Game was made into a 2010 movie starring Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as Wilson.

And Plame co-authored two fictional spy thrillers with Santa Fe novelist Sarah Lovett.

She and Wilson legally separated in 2017, court records show, and their $2.1 million home on Santa Fe's northeast side has been on the market since last year. The couple was granted a divorce in January.

Plame is well-known in Santa Fe and has name recognition nationally -- but will that be enough for an Anglo, who's a relative newcomer to the area and doesn't speak fluent Spanish, to win the largely Hispanic Congressional District 3?

Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said in an interview Thursday that Plame's name recognition probably isn't as great in rural parts of the district -- which includes conservative enclaves like Farmington and Clovis. Her base will be progressive Anglo transplants in Santa Fe, Sanderoff said.

"The question is whether she can grow that base among Hispanics and Native Americans," he added.

That answer will depend on who else enters the race.

So far, Plame's opponents include state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, former Navajo Nation presidential and vice presidential candidate Dineh Benally, and

Santa Fe lawyer Teresa Leger. Gavin Kaiser of Santa Cruz has filed a statement of candidacy for the House seat with the Federal Election Commission, and District Attorney Marco Serna of Santa Fe has launched an "exploratory committee" for a possible congressional race.

Air ambulance business manager Mark McDonald, 27, of Raton, who had announced he planned to run for the seat, dropped out of the race Wednesday and instead endorsed Serna.

In her announcement Thursday, (May 9), Plame said health care and the cost of prescription drugs will be issues in her campaign.

Asked what other issues she'll stress, Plame said she's currently in "listening mode."

"The trick is to listen more and talk less," she said, adding she plans to go to communities throughout the district and talk to people about their concerns.

One potential sour note that could affect Plame's campaign was an incident on Twitter in September 2017. Plame posted a link to an article with a headline that said, "America's Jews Are Driving America's Wars."

When she got pushback, Plame initially tweeted, "First of all, calm down. Re-tweets don't imply endorsement. Yes, very provocative, but thoughtful. Many neocon hawks ARE Jewish." She added, "... I am of Jewish decent. I am not in favor of war with Iran, or getting out of the Iran nuclear treaty."

Later in the day, she posted an apology.

"OK folks, look, I messed up," she wrote. "I skimmed this piece, zeroed in on the neocon criticism, and shared it without seeing and considering the rest."

On her website, she posted a lengthy apology that remained on the site Thursday. "The anti-Semitic tropes in the piece are vile and I do not, nor ever have, endorsed them," she wrote. "I regret adding to the already chaotic and sometimes hate-filled conversation on social media."

Plame  reiterated Thursday how ashamed she had felt when she realized the nature of the article she'd tweeted and said she's worked to atone for her mistake.

She also said she's expecting a competitive race for the Democratic nomination in the June 2020 primary for a House seat in a district where 51 percent of voters are Democrats and just 27 percent are registered as Republicans.

The sole Republican seeking the GOP nomination in the race so far is Brett Kokinadis, a Santa Fe resident who recently was registered as a Democrat.

Plame said she's already spoken with individuals and organizations seeking support for her campaign, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps House candidates; Emily's List, a political action committee that funds female candidates who favor abortion rights; and Rep. Luján, whose campaign said he hasn't yet endorsed anyone in the race to succeed him.

"I think it's going to be packed," Plame said of the primary field. "I think competition usually is a good thing."
 
This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News. 
 

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