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Border-state leaders absent from conference

Border-state leaders absent from conference

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ENSENADA, Mexico -- New Mexico is again the only U.S. state that sent its chief executive to an annual conference of governors from the Mexican and U.S. states along the border, fueling questions about whether the 30-year-old tradition has lost its way.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer canceled last year's gathering in Phoenix after Mexico's border governors boycotted the event because she had just signed a tough law against illegal immigration. The New Mexico governor at the time, Bill Richardson, convened a meeting in Santa Fe, but he was the only one of four U.S. border governors to show up.

Richardson was also the only U.S. governor at the 2009 conference in Monterrey, Mexico.

"The governors are in a position to set the agenda for border issues, but they haven't quite figured out how to do it," said Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute in Washington. "This could be the one conference a year that everyone who cares about the border has to be at. It hasn't become that."

Current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is the only U.S. governor at the 29th meeting, which began late Wednesday and ends Thursday in the Mexican port city of Ensenada, about 50 miles south of San Diego. Three of Mexico's six border governors attended the opening ceremony at a vineyard in the rustic Valle de Guadalupe region.

Brewer backed out Tuesday, depriving the gathering of some potential excitement after last year's fiasco. Her spokesman, Matthew Benson, said she needed to catch up on state business after a 10-day trip to China that ended Saturday.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is raising money ahead of Friday's filing deadline for presidential campaign finance reports. He had fundraisers in Tennessee on Wednesday and in Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia on Thursday.

"Conversations about border issues between Texas and other states and the federal government are ongoing whether or not someone is attending border governors' conferences," said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent two senior Cabinet secretaries to the opening ceremony, which ended in a fireworks display. Governors from California, Arizona and three Mexican states sent substitutes. Only Texas had no one represented on the dais.

Martinez, the first Latina governor in the United States, told the wine-sipping crowd she was confident the meeting would be fruitful.

The venue alternates each year between the United States and Mexico. Martinez hosts next year's conference in Albuquerque.

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